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Hilary Putnam 



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Brains in a vat 



A problem about reference 



Two philosophical perspectives 



Mind and body 



Two conceptions of rationality 



Fact and value 



Reason and history 



The impact of science on modern 

conceptions of rationality 



Values, facts and cognition 







A reader who is unused to technical philosophy, or who wishes 
to gain an overview of the argument of this book, might well 
start by reading Chapter 5 to the end of the book, and only then 
return to Chapters 1 to 4. 


In the present work, the aim which I have in mind is to break the 
strangle hold which a number of dichotomies appear to have on 
the thinking of both philosophers and laymen. Chief among 
these is the dichotomy between objective and subjective views of 
truth and reason. The phenomenon I am thinking of is this: once 
such a dichotomy as the dichotomy between 'objective' and 'sub- 
jective' has become accepted, accepted not as a mere pair of cat- 
egories but as a characterization of types of views and styles of 
thought, thinkers begin to view the terms of the dichotomy 
almost as ideological labels. Many, perhaps most, philosophers 
hold some version of the 'copy' theory of truth today, the con- 
ception according to which a statement is true just in case it 
'corresponds to the (mind independent) facts'; and the philoso- 
phers in this faction see the only alternative as the denial of the 
objectivity of truth and a capitulation to the idea that all schemes 
of thought and all points of view are hopelessly subjective. Inev- 
itably a bold minority (Kuhn, in some of his moods at least; 
Feyerabend, and such distinguished continental philosophers as 
Foucault) range themselves under the opposite label. They agree 
that the alternative to a naive copy conception of truth is to see 
systems of thought, ideologies, even (in the case of Kuhn and 
Feyerabend) scientific theories, as subjective, and they proceed 
to put forward a relativist and subjective view with vigor. 

That philosophical dispute assumes somewhat the character 
of ideological dispute is not, of itself, necessarily bad: new ideas, 
even in the most exact sciences, are frequently both espoused 
and attacked with partisan vigor. Even in politics, polarization 


and ideological fervor are sometimes necessary to bring moral 
seriousness to an issue. But in time, both in philosophy and pol- 
itics, new ideas become old ideas; what was once challenging, 
becomes predictable and boring; and what once served to focus 
attention where it should be focussed, later keeps discussion 
from considering new alternatives. This has now happened in 
the debate between the correspondence views of truth and sub- 
jectivist views. In the first three chapters of this book I shall try 
to explain a conception of truth which unites objective and sub- 
jective components. This view, in spirit at least, goes back to 
ideas of Immanuel Kant; and it holds that we can reject a naive 
'copy' conception of truth without having to hold that it's all a 
matter of the Zeitgeist, or a matter of 'gestalt switches', or all a 
matter of ideology. 

The view which I shall defend holds, to put it very roughly, 
that there is an extremely close connection between the notions 
of truth and rationality; that, to put it even more crudely, tjje 
only criterion for what is a fact is what it is rational to accept. 
(I mean this quite literally and across the board; thus if it can be 
rational to accept that a picture is beautiful, then it can be a fact 
that the picture is beautiful.) There can be value facts on this 
conception. But the relation between rational acceptability and 
truth is a relation between two distinct notions. A statement can 
be rationally acceptable at a time but not true; and this realist 
intuition will be preserved in my account. 

I do not believe, however, that rationality is defined by a set of 
unchanging 'canons' or 'principles'; methodological principles 
are connected with our view of the world, including our view of 
ourselves as part of the world, and change with time. Thus I 
agree with the subjectivist philosophers that there is no fixed, 
ahistorical organon which defines what it is to be rational; but I 
don't conclude from the fact that our conceptions of reason 
evolve in history, that reason itself can be (or evolve into) any- 
thing, nor do I end up in some fancy mixture of cultural relativ- 
ism and 'structuralism' like the French philosophers. The dichot- 
omy: either ahistorical unchanging canons of rationality or 
cultural relativism is a dichotomy that I regard as outdated. 

Another feature of the view is that rationality is not restricted 
to laboratory science, nor different in a fundamental way in 
laboratory science and outside of it. The conception that it is 
seems to me a hangover from positivism; from the idea that the 



scientific world is in some way constructed out of 'sense data' 
and the idea that terms in the laboratory sciences are 'operation- 
ally defined'. I shall not devote much space to criticizing opera- 
tionalist and positivist views of science; these have been thor- 
oughly criticized in the last twenty-odd years. But the empiricist 
idea that 'sense data' constitute some sort of objective 'ground 
floor' for at least a part of our knowledge will be reexamined in 
the light of what we have to say about truth and rationality (in 
Chapter 3). 

In short, I shall advance a view in which the mind does not 
simply 'copy' a world which admits of description by One True 
Theory. But my view is not a view in which the mind makes up 
the world, either (or makes it up subject to constraints imposed 
by 'methodological canons' and mind-independent 'sense-data'). 
If one must use metaphorical language, then let the metaphor be 
this: the mind and the world jointly make up the mind and the 
world. (Or, to make the metaphor even more Hegelian, the Uni- 
verse makes up the Universe - with minds - collectively - play- 
ing ii special role in the making up.) 

A final feature of my account of rationality is this: I shall try 
to show that our notion of rationality is, at bottom, just one part 
of our conception of human flourishing, our idea of the good. 
Truth is deeply dependent on what have been recendy called 
'values' (Chapter 6). And what we said above about rationality 
and history also applies to value and history; there is no given, 
ahistorical, set of 'moral principles' which define once and for 
all what human flourishing consists in; but that doesn't mean 
that it's all merely cultural and relative. Since the current state in 
the theory of truth - the current dichotomy between copy theo- 
ries of truth and subjective accounts of truth - is at least partly 
responsible, in my view, for the notorious 'fact/value' dichot- 
omy, it is only by going to a very deep level and correcting our 
accounts of truth and rationality themselves that we can get 
beyond the fact/value dichotomy. (A dichotomy which, as it is 
conventionally understood, virtually commits one to some sort 
of relativism.) The current views of truth are alienated views; 
they cause one to lose one part or another of one's self and the 
world, to see the world as simply consisting of elementary par- 
ticles swerving in the void (the 'physicalist' view, which sees the 
scientific description as converging to the One True Theory), or 
to see the world as simply consisting of 'actual and possible 



sense-data' (the older empiricist view), or to deny that there is a 
world at all, as opposed to a bunch of stories that we make up 
for various (mainly unconscious) reasons. And my purpose in 
this work is to sketch the leading ideas of a non- alienated view. 

My Herbert Spencer Lecture, 'Philosophers and Human 
Understanding' (given at Oxford University, 1979) overlaps the 
present text, having stemmed from work in progress, as does the 
paper * "Si Dieu est moit, alors tout est permis". . . (reflexions 
sur la philosophic du langage)', Critique, 1980. 

A research grant from the National Science Foundation* sup- 
ported research connected with this book during the years 
1978-80. I gratefully acknowledge this support. 

Thomas Kuhn and Ruth Anna Putnam have studied drafts of 
this book and given me able criticism and wise advice. I have 
been helped also by advice and criticism from many friends, 
including Ned Block, David Helman, and Justin Leiber, and the 
students in my various lectures and seminars at Harvard. Several 
chapters were read as lectures in Lima in the spring of 1980 (a 
trip made possible by a grant from the Fulbright Commission), 
and Chapter 2 was actually finished during my Lima stay. I ben- 
efited in this period from discussions with Leopoldo Chiappo, 
Alberto Cordero Lecca, Henriques Fernandez, Francisco Miro 
Quesada, and Jorge Secada. The entire book (in an earlier ver- 
sion) was read as lectures at the University of Frankfurt in the 
summer of 1980, and I am grateful to my colleagues there (espe- 
cially Wilhelm Essler and Rainer Trapp), to my very stimulating 
group of students, and my other friends in Germany (especially 
Dieter Henrich, Manon Fassbinder, and Wolfgang Stegmuller) 
for encouragement and stimulating discussions. 

All of my colleagues in the Harvard Philosophy Department 
deserve to be singled out for individual thanks. In recent years 
Nelson Goodman and I have detected a convergence in our 
views, and while the first draft of the present book was written 
before I had the opportunity to see his Ways of Worldmaking, 
reading it and discussing these issues with him has been of great 
value at a number of stages. 

I am also grateful to Jeremy Mynott for encouragement and 
advice in his capacity as editor. 

*To study "The Appraisal of Scientific Theories: Historical versus Formal 
Methodological Approaches'; Agreement No. SOC78-04276. 

Brains in a vat 

An ant is crawling on a patch of sand. As it crawls, it traces a 
line in the sand. By pure chance the line that it traces curves and 
recrosses itself in such a way that it ends up looking like a rec- 
ognizable caricature of Winston Churchill. Has the ant traced a 
picture of Winston Churchill, a picture that depicts Churchill? 

Most people would say, on a little reflection, that it has not. 
The ant, after all, has never seen Churchill, or even a picture of 
Churchill, and it had no intention of depicting Churchill. It sim- 
ply traced a line (and even that was unintentional), a line that 
we can 'see as' a picture of Churchill. 

We can express this by saying that the line is not 'in itself' a 
representation 1 of anything rather than anything else. Similarity 
(of a certain very complicated sort) to the features of Winston 
Churchill is not sufficient to make something represent or refer 
to Churchill. Nor is it necessary: in our community the printed 
shape 'Winston Churchill', the spoken words 'Winston Chur- 
chill', and many other things are used to represent Churchill 
(though not pictorially), while not having the sort of similarity 

1 In this book the terms 'representation* and 'reference' always refer to a 
relation between a word (or other sort of sign, symbol, or 
representation) and something that actually exists (i.e. not just an 'object 
of thought'). There is a sense of 'refer' in which I can 'refer' to what does 
not exist; this is not the sense in which 'refer' is used here. An older 
word for what I call 'representation' or 'reference' is denotation. 

Secondly, I follow the custom of modern logicians and use 'exist' to 
mean 'exist in the past, present, or future'. Thus Winston Churchill 
'exists', and we can 'refer to' or 'represent' Winston Churchill, even 
though he is no longer alive. 

2 Brains in a vat 

to Churchill that a picture - even a line drawing - has. If simi- 
larity is not necessary or sufficient to make something represent 
something else, how can anything be necessary or sufficient for 
this purpose? How on earth can one thing represent (or 'stand 
for', etc.) a different thing? 

The answer may seem easy. Suppose the ant had seen Winston 
Churchill, and suppose that it had the intelligence and skill to 
draw a picture of him. Suppose it produced the caricature inten- 
tionally. Then the line would have represented Churchill. 

On the other hand, suppose the line had the shape WINSTON 
CHURCHILL. And suppose this was just accident (ignoring the 
improbability involved). Then the 'printed shape' WINSTON 
CHURCHILL would not have represented Churchill, although 
that printed shape does represent Churchill when it occurs in 
almost any book today. 

So it may seem that what is necessary for representation, or 
what is mainly necessary for representation, is intention. 

But to have the intention that anything, even private lan- 
guage (even the words 'Winston Churchill' spoken in my mind 
and not out loud), should represent Churchill, I must have been 
able to think about Churchill in the first place. If lines in the 
sand, noises, etc., cannot 'in themselves' represent anything, then 
how is it that thought forms can 'in themselves' represent any- 
thing? Or can they? How can thought reach out and 'grasp' 
what is external? 

Some philosophers have, in the past, leaped from this sort of 
consideration to what they take to be a proof that the mind is 
essentially non-physical in nature. The argument is simple; what 
we said about the ant's curve applies to any physical object. No 
physical object can, in itself, refer to one thing rather than to 
another; nevertheless, thoughts in the mind obviously do suc- 
ceed in referring to one thing rather than another. So thoughts 
(and hence the mind) are of an essentially different nature than 
physical objects. Thoughts have the characteristic of intention- 
ality- they can refer to something else; nothing physical has 
'intentionality', save as that intentionality is derivative from 
some employment of that physical thing by a mind. Or so it is 
claimed. This is too quick; just postulating mysterious powers of 
mind solves nothing. But the problem is very real. How is inten- 
tionality, reference, possible? 

Brains in a vat 

Magical theories of reference 

We saw that the ant's 'picture' has no necessary connection with 
Winston Churchill. The mere fact that the 'picture' bears a 
'resemblance' to Churchill does not make it into a real picture, 
nor does it make it a representation of Churchill. Unless the ant 
is an intelligent ant (which it isn't) and knows about Churchill 
(which it doesn't), the curve it traced is not a picture or even a 
representation of anything. Some primitive people believe that 
some representations (in particular, names) have a necessary 
connection with their bearers; that to know the 'true name' of 
someone or something gives one power over it. This power 
comes from the magical connection between the name and the 
bearer of the name; once one realizes that a name only has a 
contextual, contingent, conventional connection with its bearer, 
it is hard to see why knowledge of the name should have any 
mystical significance. 

What is important to realize is that what goes for physical 
pictures also goes for mental images, and for mental representa- 
tions in general; mental representations no more have a neces- 
sary connection with what they represent than physical represen- 
tations do. The contrary supposition is a survival of magical 

Perhaps the point is easiest to grasp in the case of mental 
images. (Perhaps the first philosopher to grasp the enormous sig- 
nificance of this point, even if he was not the first to actually 
make it, was Wittgenstein.) Suppose there is a planet somewhere 
on which human beings have evolved (or been deposited by alien 
spacemen, or what have you). Suppose these humans, although 
otherwise like us, have never seen trees. Suppose they have never 
imagined trees (perhaps vegetable life exists on their planet only 
in the form of molds). Suppose one day a picture of a tree is 
accidentally dropped on their planet by a spaceship which passes 
on without having other contact with them. Imagine them puz- 
zling over the picture. What in the world is this? All sorts of 
speculations occur to them: a building, a canopy, even an animal 
of some kind. But suppose they never come close to the truth. 

For us the picture is a representation of a tree. For these 
humans the picture only represents a strange object, nature and 
function unknown. Suppose one of them has a mental image 

Brains in a vat 

which is exactly like one of my mental images of a tree as a result 
of having seen the picture. His mental image is not a represen- 
tation of a tree. It is only a representation of the strange object 
(whatever it is) that the mysterious picture represents. 

Still, someone might argue that the mental image is in fact a 
representation of a tree, if only because the picture which caused 
this mental image was itself a representation of a tree to begin 
with. There is a causal chain from actual trees to the mental 
image even if it is a very strange one. 

But even this causal chain can be imagined absent. Suppose 
the 'picture of the tree' that the spaceship dropped was not really 
a picture of a tree, but the accidental result of some spilled 
paints. Even if it looked exactly like a picture of a tree, it was, in 
truth, no more a picture of a tree than the ant's 'caricature' of 
Churchill was a picture of Churchill. We can even imagine that 
the spaceship which dropped the 'picture' came from a planet 
which knew nothing of trees. Then the humans would still have 
mental images qualitatively identical with my image of a tree, 
but they would not be images which represented a tree any more 
than anything else. 

The same thing is true of words. A discourse on paper might 
seem to be a perfect description of trees, but if it was produced 
by monkeys randomly hitting keys on a typewriter for millions 
of years, then the words do not refer to anything. If there were 
a person who memorized those words and said them in his mind 
without understanding them, then they would not refer to any- 
thing when thought in the mind, either. 

Imagine the person who is saying those words in his mind has 
been hypnotized. Suppose the words are in Japanese, and the per- 
son has been told that he understands Japanese. Suppose that as 
he thinks those words he has a 'feeling of understanding'. 
(Although if someone broke into his train of thought and asked 
him what the words he was thinking meant, he would discover 
he couldn't say.) Perhaps the illusion would be so perfect that 
the person could even fool a Japanese telepath! But if he 
couldn't use the words in the right contexts, answer questions 
about what he 'thought', etc., then he didn't understand them. 

By combining these science fiction stories I have been telling, 
we can contrive a case in which someone thinks words which are 
in fact a description of trees in some language and simultane- 

Brains in a vat 5 

ously has appropriate mental images, but neither understands 
the words nor knows what a tree is. We can even imagine that 
the mental images were caused by paint-spills (although the per- 
son has been hypnotized to think that they are images of some- 
thing appropriate to his thought - only, if he were asked, he 
wouldn't be able to say of what). And we can imagine that the 
language the person is thinking in is one neither the hypnotist 
nor the person hypnotized has ever heard of — perhaps it is just 
coincidence that these 'nonsense sentences', as the hypnotist sup- 
poses them to be, are a description of trees in Japanese. In short, 
everything passing before the person's mind might be qualita- 
tively identical with what was passing through the mind of a 
Japanese speaker who was really thinking about trees — but 
none of it would refer to trees. 

All of this is really impossible, of course, in the way that it is 
really impossible that monkeys should by chance type out a copy 
of Hamlet. That is to say that the probabilities against it are so 
high as to mean it will never really happen (we think). But is is 
not logically impossible, or even physically impossible. It could 
happen (compatibly with physical law and, perhaps, compatibly 
with actual conditions in the universe, if there are lots of intelli- 
gent beings on other planets). And if it did happen, it would be 
a striking demonstration of an important conceptual truth; that 
even a large and complex system of representations, both verbal 
and visual, still does not have an intrinsic, built-in, magical con- 
nection with what it represents - a connection independent of 
how it was caused and what the dispositions of the speaker or 
thinker are. And this is true whether the system of representa- 
tions (words and images, in the case of the example) is physically 
realized - the words are written or spoken, and the pictures are 
physical pictures - or only realized in the mind. Thought words 
and mental pictures do not intrinsically represent what they are 

The case of the brains in a vat 

Here is a science fiction possibility discussed by philosophers: 
imagine that a human being (you can imagine this to be yourself) 
has been subjected to an operation by an evil scientist. The per- 
son's brain (your brain) has been removed from the body and 

Brains in a vat 

placed in a vat of nutrients which keeps the brain alive. The 
nerve endings have been connected to a super-scientific com- 
puter which causes the person whose brain it is to have the illu- 
sion that everything is perfectly normal. There seem to be peo- 
ple, objects, the sky, etc; but really all the person (you) is 
experiencing is the result of electronic impulses travelling from 
the computer to the nerve endings. The computer is so clever 
that if the person tries to raise his hand, the feedback from the 
computer will cause him to 'see' and 'feel' the hand being raised. 
Moreover, by varying the program, the evil scientist can cause 
the victim to 'experience' (or hallucinate) any situation or envi- 
ronment the evil scientist wishes. He can also obliterate the 
memory of the brain operation, so that the victim will seem to 
himself to have always been in this environment. It can even 
seem to the victim that he is sitting and reading these very words 
about the amusing but quite absurd supposition that there is an 
evil scientist who removes people's brains from their bodies and 
places them in a vat of nutrients which keep the brains alive. The 
nerve endings are supposed to be connected to a super-scientific 
computer which causes the person whose brain it is to have the 
illusion that . . . 

When this sort of possibility is mentioned in a lecture on the 
Theory of Knowledge, the purpose, of course, is to raise the clas- 
sical problem of scepticism with respect to the external world in 
a modern way. {How do you know you aren't in this predica- 
ment?) But this predicament is also a useful device for raising 
issues about the mind/world relationship. 

Instead of having just one brain in a vat, we could imagine 
that all human beings (perhaps all sentient beings) are brains in 
a vat (or nervous systems in a vat in case some beings with just 
a minimal nervous system already count as 'sentient'). Of course, 
the evil scientist would have to be outside - or would he? Per- 
haps there is no evil scientist, perhaps (though this is absurd) the 
universe just happens to consist of automatic machinery tending 
a vat full of brains and nervous systems. 

This time let us suppose that the automatic machinery is pro- 
grammed to give us all a collective hallucination, rather than a 
number of separate unrelated hallucinations. Thus, when I seem 
to myself to be talking to you, you seem to yourself to be hearing 
my words. Of course, it is not the case that my words actually 

Brains in a vat 

reach your ears - for you don't have (real) ears, nor do I have a 
real mouth and tongue. Rather, when I produce my words, what 
happens is that the efferent impulses travel from my brain to the 
computer, which both causes me to 'hear' my own voice uttering 
those words and 'feel' my tongue moving, etc., and causes you 
to 'hear' my words, 'see' me speaking, etc. In this case, we are, 
in a sense, actually in communication. I am not mistaken about 
your real existence (only about the existence of your body and 
the 'external world', apart from brains). From a certain point of 
view, it doesn't even matter that 'the whole world' is a collective 
hallucination; for you do, after all, really hear my words when 
I speak to you, even if the mechanism isn't what we suppose it 
to be. (Of course, if we were two lovers making love, rather than 
just two people carrying on a conversation, then the suggestion 
that it was just two brains in a vat might be disturbing.) 

I want now to ask a question which will seem very silly and 
obvious (at least to some people, including some very sophisti- 
cated philosophers), but which will take us to real philosophical 
depths rather quickly. Suppose this whole story were actually 
true. Could we, if we were brains in a vat in this way, say or 
think that we were? 

I am going to argue that the answer is 'No, we couldn't.' In 
fact, I am going to argue that the supposition that we are 
actually brains in a vat, although it violates no physical law, and 
is perfectly consistent with everything we have experienced, can- 
not possibly be true. It cannot possibly be true, because it is, in 
a certain way, self-refuting. 

The argument I am going to present is an unusual one, and it 
took me several years to convince myself that it is really right. 
But it is a correct argument. What makes it seem so strange is 
that it is connected with some of the very deepest issues in phi- 
losophy. (It first occurred to me when I was thinking about a 
theorem in modern logic, the 'Skolem-Lowenheim Theorem', 
and I suddenly saw a connection between this theorem and some 
arguments in Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations,) 

A 'self-refuting supposition' is one whose truth implies its own 
falsity. For example, consider the thesis that all general state- 
ments are false. This is a general statement. So if it is true, then 
it must be false. Hence, it is false. Sometimes a thesis is called 
'self-refuting' if it is the supposition that the thesis is entertained 


Brains in a vat 

or enunciated that implies its falsity. For example, 'I do not exist' 
is self-refuting if thought by me (for any s me y ). So one can be 
certain that one oneself exists, if one thinks about it (as Des- 
cartes argued). 

What I shall show is that the supposition that we are brains in 
a vat has just this property. If we can consider whether it is true 
or false, then it is not true (I shall show). Hence it is not true. 

Before I give the argument, let us consider why it seems so 
strange that such an argument can be given (at least to philoso- 
phers who subscribe to a 'copy' conception of truth). We con- 
ceded that it is compatible with physical law that there should 
be a world in which all sentient beings are brains in a vat. As 
philosophers say, there is a 'possible world' in which all sentient 
beings are brains in a vat. (This 'possible world' talk makes it 
sound as if there is a place where any absurd supposition is true, 
which is why it can be very misleading in philosophy.) The 
humans in that possible world have exactly the same experiences 
that we do. They think the same thoughts we do (at least, the 
same words, images, thought-forms, etc., go through their 
minds). Yet, I am claiming that there is an argument we can give 
that shows we are not brains in a vat. How can there be? And 
why couldn't the people in the possible world who really are 
brains in a vat give it too? 

The answer is going to be (basically) this: although the people 
in that possible world can think and 'say' any words we can 
think and say, they cannot (I claim) refer to what we can refer 
to. In particular, they cannot think or say that they are brains in 
a vat [even by thinking 'we are brains in a vaf). 

Turing's test 

Suppose someone succeeds in inventing a computer which can 
actually carry on an intelligent conversation with one (on as 
many subjects as an intelligent person might). How can one 
decide if the computer is 'conscious'? 

The British logician Alan Turing proposed the following test: 2 
let someone carry on a conversation with the computer and a 
conversation with a person whom he does not know. If he can- 

2 A. M. Turing, 'Computing Machinery and Intelligence', Mind (1950), 
reprinted in A. R. Anderson (ed.), Minds and Machines. 

Brains in a vat 

not tell which is the computer and which is the human being, 
then (assume the test to be repeated a sufficient number of times 
with different interlocutors) the computer is conscious. In short, 
a computing machine is conscious if it can pass the 'Turing Test'. 
(The conversations are not to be carried on face to face, of 
course, since the interlocutor is not to know the visual appear- 
ance of either of his two conversational partners. Nor is voice to 
be used, since the mechanical voice might simply sound different 
from a human voice. Imagine, rather, that the conversations are 
all carried on via electric typewriter. The interlocutor types in 
his statements, questions, etc., and the two partners - the 
machine and the person - respond via the electric keyboard. 
Also, the machine may lie - asked 'Are you a machine', it might 
reply, 'No, I'm an assistant in the lab here.') 

The idea that this test is really a definitive test of consciousness 
has been criticized by a number of authors (who are by no means 
hostile in principle to the idea that a machine might be con- 
scious). But this is not our topic at this time. I wish to use the 
general idea of the Turing test, the general idea of a dialogic test 
of competence, for a different purpose, the purpose of exploring 
the notion of reference. 

Imagine a situation in which the problem is not to determine 
if the partner is really a person or a machine, but is rather to 
determine if the partner uses the words to refer as we do. The 
obvious test is, again, to carry on a conversation, and, if no 
problems arise, if the partner 'passes' in the sense of being indis- 
tinguishable from someone who is certified in advance to be 
speaking the same language, referring to the usual sorts of 
objects, etc., to conclude that the partner does refer to objects as 
we do. When the purpose of the Turing test is as just described, 
that is, to determine the existence of (shared) reference, I shall 
refer to the test as the Turing Test for Reference. And, just as 
philosophers have discussed the question whether the original 
Turing test is a definitive test for consciousness, i.e. the question 
of whether a machine which 'passes' the test not just once but 
regularly is necessarily conscious, so, in the same way, I wish to 
discuss the question of whether the Turing Test for Reference 
just suggested is a definitive test for shared reference. 

The answer will turn out to be 'No'. The Turing Test for Ref- 
erence is not definitive. It is certainly an excellent test in practice; 


Brains in a vat 

but it is not logically impossible (though it is certainly highly 
improbable) that someone could pass the Turing Test for Refer- 
ence and not be referring to anything. It follows from this, as we 
shall see, that we can extend our observation that words (and 
whole texts and discourses) do not have a necessary connection 
to their referents. Even if we consider not words by themselves 
but rules deciding what words may appropriately be produced 
in certain contexts — even if we consider, in computer jargon, 
programs for using words — unless those programs themselves 
refer to something extra-linguistic there is still no determinate 
reference that those words possess. This will be a crucial step in 
the process of reaching the conclusion that the Brain-in-a-Vat 
Worlders cannot refer to anything external at all (and hence can- 
not say that they are Brain-in-a-Vat Worlders). 

Suppose, for example, that I am in the Turing situation (play- 
ing the 'Imitation Game', in Turing's terminology) and my part- 
ner is actually a machine. Suppose this machine is able to win 
the game ('passes' the test). Imagine the machine to be pro- 
grammed to produce beautiful responses in English to state- 
ments, questions, remarks, etc. in English, but that it has no 
sense organs (other than the hookup to my electric typewriter), 
and no motor organs (other than the electric typewriter). (As far 
as I can make out, Turing does not assume that the possession 
of either sense organs or motor organs is necessary for con- 
sciousness or intelligence.) Assume that not only does the 
machine lack electronic eyes and ears, etc., but that there are no 
provisions in the machine's program, the program for playing 
the Imitation Game, for incorporating inputs from such sense 
organs, or for controlling a body. What should we say about 
such a machine? 

To me, it seems evident that we cannot and should not attrib- 
ute reference to such a device. It is true that the machine can 
discourse beautifully about, say, the scenery in New England. 
But it could not recognize an apple tree or an apple, a mountain 
or a cow, a field or a steeple, if it were in front of one. 

What we have is a device for producing sentences in response 
to sentences. But none of these sentences is at all connected to 
the real world. If one coupled two of these machines and let 
them play the Imitation Game with each other, then they would 

Brains in a vat 


go on 'fooling* each other forever, even if the rest of the world 
disappeared! There is no more reason to regard the machine's 
talk of apples as referring to real world apples than there is to 
regard the ant's 'drawing' as referring to Winston Churchill. 

What produces the illusion of reference, meaning, intelligence, 
etc., here is the fact that there is a convention of representation 
which we have under which the machine's discourse refers to 
apples, steeples, New England, etc. Similarly, there is the illusion 
that the ant has caricatured Churchill, for the same reason. But 
we are able to perceive, handle, deal with apples and fields. Our 
talk of apples and fields is intimately connected with our non- 
verbal transactions with apples and fields. There are 'language 
entry rules' which take us from experiences of apples to such 
utterances as 'I see an apple', and 'language exit rules' which 
take us from decisions expressed in linguistic form ('I am going 
to buy some apples') to actions other than speaking. Lacking 
either language entry rules or language exit rules, there is no 
reason to regard the conversation of the machine (or of the two 
machines, in the case we envisaged of two machines playing the 
Imitation Game with each other) as more than syntactic play. 
Syntactic play that resembles intelligent discourse, to be sure; 
but only as (and no more than) the ant's curve resembles a biting 

In the case of the ant, we could have argued that the ant would 
have drawn the same curve even if Winston Churchill had never 
existed. In the case of the machine, we cannot quite make the 
parallel argument; if apples, trees, steeples and fields had not 
existed, then, presumably, the programmers would not have 
produced that same program. Although the machine does not 
perceive apples, fields, or steeples, its creator-designers did. 
There is some causal connection between the machine and the 
real world apples, etc., via the perceptual experience and knowl- 
edge of the creator-designers. But such a weak connection can 
hardly suffice for reference. Not only is it logically possible, 
though fantastically improbable, that the same machine could 
have existed even if apples, fields, and steeples had not existed; 
more important, the machine is utterly insensitive to the contin- 
ued existence of apples, fields, steeples, etc. Even if all these 
things ceased to exist, the machine would still discourse just as 


Brains in a vat 

happily in the same way. That is why the machine cannot be 
regarded as referring at all. 

The point that is relevant for our discussion is that there is 
nothing in Turing's Test to rule out a machine which is pro- 
grammed to do nothing but play the Imitation Game, and that a 
machine which can do nothing but play the Imitation Game is 
clearly not referring any more than a record player is. 

Brains in a vat (again) 

Let us compare the hypothetical 'brains in a vat' with the 
machines just described. There are obviously important differ- 
ences. The brains in a vat do not have sense organs, but they do 
have provision for sense organs; that is, there are afferent nerve 
endings, there are inputs from these afferent nerve endings, and 
these inputs figure in the 'program' of the brains in the vat just 
as they do in the program of our brains. The brains in a vat are 
brains; moreover, they art functioning brains, and they function 
by the same rules as brains do in the actual world. For these 
reasons, it would seem absurd to deny consciousness or intelli- 
gence to them. But the fact that they are conscious and intelligent 
does not mean that their words refer to what our words refer. 
The question we are interested in is this: do their verbalizations 
containing, say, the word 'tree' actually refer to trees? More gen- 
erally: can they refer to external objects at all? (As opposed to, 
for example, objects in the image produced by the automatic 

To fix our ideas, let us specify that the automatic machinery is 
supposed to have come into existence by some kind of cosmic 
chance or coincidence (or, perhaps, to have always existed). In 
this hypothetical world, the automatic machinery itself is sup- 
posed to have no intelligent creator-designers. In fact, as we said 
at the beginning of this chapter, we may imagine that all sentient 
beings (however minimal their sentience) are inside the vat. 

This assumption does not help. For there is no connection 
between the word 'tree' as used by these brains and actual trees. 
They would still use the word 'tree' just as they do, think just the 
thoughts they do, have just the images they have, even if there 
were no actual trees. Their images, words, etc., are qualitatively 
identical with images, words, etc., which do represent trees in 

Brains in a vat 


our world; but we have already seen (the ant again!) that quali- 
tative similarity to something which represents an object (Win- 
ston Churchill or a tree) does not make a thing a representation 
all by itself. In short, the brains in a vat are not thinking about 
real trees when they think 'there is a tree in front of me' because 
there is nothing by virtue of which their thought 'tree' represents 
actual trees. 

If this seems hasty, reflect on the following: we have seen that 
the words do not necessarily refer to trees even if they are 
arranged in a sequence which is identical with a discourse which 
(were it to occur in one of our minds) would unquestionably be 
about trees in the actual world. Nor does the 'program', in the 
sense of the rules, practices, dispositions of the brains to verbal 
behavior, necessarily refer to trees or bring about reference to 
trees through the connections it establishes between words and 
words, or linguistic cues and linguistic responses. If these brains 
think about, refer to, represent trees (real trees, outside the vat), 
then it must be because of the way the 'program' connects the 
system of language to non-verbal input and outputs. There are 
indeed such non-verbal inputs and outputs in the Brain-in-a-Vat 
world (those efferent and afferent nerve endings again!), but we 
also saw that the 'sense-data' produced by the automatic 
machinery do not represent trees (or anything external) even 
when they resemble our tree-images exactly. Just as a splash of 
paint might resemble a tree picture without being a tree picture, 
so, we saw, a 'sense datum' might be qualitatively identical with 
an 'image of a tree' without being an image of a tree. How can 
the fact that, in the case of the brains in a vat, the language is 
connected by the program with sensory inputs which do not 
intrinsically or extrinsically represent trees (or anything exter- 
nal) possibly bring it about that the whole system of representa- 
tions, the language-in-use, does refer to or represent trees or any- 
thing external? 

The answer is that it cannot. The whole system of sense-data, 
motor signals to the efferent endings, and verbally or concep- 
tually mediated thought connected by 'language entry rules' to 
the sense-data (or whatever) as inputs and by 'language exit 
rules' to the motor signals as outputs, has no more connection to 
trees than the ant's curve has to Winston Churchill. Once we see 
that the qualitative similarity (amounting, if you like, to quali- 


Brains in a vat 

tative identity) between the thoughts of the brains in a vat and 
the thoughts of someone in the actual world by no means implies 
sameness of reference, it is not hard to see that there is no basis 
at all for regarding the brain in a vat as referring to external 

The premisses of the argument 

I have now given the argument promised to show that the brains 
in a vat cannot think or say that they are brains in a vat. It 
remains only to make it explicit and to examine its structure. 

By what was just said, when the brain in a vat (in the world 
where every sentient being is and always was a brain in a vat) 
thinks 'There is a tree in front of me', his thought does not refer 
to actual trees. On some theories that we shall discuss it might 
refer to trees in the image, or to the electronic impulses that 
cause tree experiences, or to the features of the program that are 
responsible for those electronic impulses. These theories are not 
ruled out by what was just said, for there is a close causal con- 
nection between the use of the word 'tree' in vat-English and the 
presence of trees in the image, the presence of electronic impulses 
of a certain kind, and the presence of certain features in the 
machine's program. On these theories the brain is right, not 
wrong in thinking 'There is a tree in front of me.' Given what 
'tree' refers to in vat-English and what 'in front of refers 
to, assuming one of these theories is correct, then the truth- 
conditions for 'There is a tree in front of me' when it occurs in 
vat-English are simply that a tree in the image be 'in front of the 
'me' in question - in the image - or, perhaps, that the kind of 
electronic impulse that normally produces this experience be 
coming from the automatic machinery, or, perhaps, that the fea- 
ture of the machinery that is supposed to produce the 'tree in 
front of one' experience be operating. And these truth- 
conditions are certainly fulfilled. 

By the same argument, 'vat' refers to vats in the image in vat- 
English, or something related (electronic impulses or program 
features), but certainly not to real vats, since the use of 'vat' in 
vat-English has no causal connection to real vats (apart from the 
connection that the brains in a vat wouldn't be able to use the 
word *vat\ if it were not for the presence of one particular vat - 

Brains in a vat 


the vat they are in; but this connection obtains between the use 
of every word in vat-English and that one particular vat; it is not 
a special connection between the use of the particular word 'vat' 
and vats). Similarly, 'nutrient fluid' refers to a liquid in the image 
in vat-English, or something related (electronic impulses or pro- 
gram features). It follows that if their 'possible world' is really 
the actual one, and we are really the brains in a vat, then what 
we now mean by 'we are brains in a vat' is that we are brains in 
a vat in the image or something of that kind (if we mean any- 
thing at all). But part of the hypothesis that we are brains in a 
vat is that we aren't brains in a vat in the image (i.e. what we are 
'hallucinating' isn't that we are brains in a vat). So, if we are 
brains in a vat, then the sentence 'We are brains in a vat' says 
something false (if it says anything). In short, if we are brains in 
a vat, then 'We are brains in a vat' is false. So it is (necessarily) 

The supposition that such a possibility makes sense arises 
from a combination of two errors: (1) taking physical possibility 
too seriously; and (2) unconsciously operating with a magical 
theory of reference, a theory on which certain mental represen- 
tations necessarily refer to certain external things and kinds of 

There is a 'physically possible world' in which we are brains 
in a vat - what does this mean except that there is a description 
of such a state of affairs which is compatible with the laws of 
physics? Just as there is a tendency in our culture (and has been 
since the seventeenth century) to take physics as our metaphys- 
ics, that is, to view the exact sciences as the long-sought descrip- 
tion of the 'true and ultimate furniture of the universe', so there 
is, as an immediate consequence, a tendency to take 'physical 
possibility' as the very touchstone of what might really actually 
be the case. Truth is physical truth; possibility physical possibil- 
ity; and necessity physical necessity, on such a view. But we have 
just seen, if only in the case of a very contrived example so far, 
that this view is wrong. The existence of a 'physically possible 
world' in which we are brains in a vat (and always were and will 
be) does not mean that we might really, actually, possibly be 
brains in a vat. What rules out this possibility is not physics but 

Some philosophers, eager both to assert and minimize the 


Brains in a vat 

claims of their profession at the same time (the typical state of 
mind of Anglo-American philosophy in the twentieth century), 
would say: 'Sure. You have shown that some things that seem to 
be physical possibilities are really conceptual impossibilities. 
What's so surprising about that?' 

Well, to be sure, my argument can be described as a 'concep- 
tual' one. But to describe philosophical activity as the search for 
'conceptual' truths makes it all sound like inquiry about the 
meaning of words. And that is not at all what we have been 
engaging in. 

What we have been doing is considering the preconditions for 
thinking about, representing, referring to, etc. We have investi- 
gated these preconditions not by investigating the meaning of 
these words and phrases (as a linguist might, for example) but 
by reasoning a priori. Not in the old 'absolute' sense (since we 
don't claim that magical theories of reference are a priori 
wrong), but in the sense of inquiring into what is reasonably 
possible assuming certain general premisses, or making certain 
very broad theoretical assumptions. Such a procedure is neither 
'empirical' nor quite 'a priori', but has elements of both ways of 
investigating. In spite of the fallibility of my procedure, and its 
dependence upon assumptions which might be described as 
'empirical' (e.g. the assumption that the mind has no access to 
external things or properties apart from that provided by the 
senses), my procedure has a close relation to what Kant called a 
'transcendental' investigation; for it is an investigation, I repeat, 
of the preconditions of reference and hence of thought - precon- 
ditions built in to the nature of our minds themselves, though 
not (as Kant hoped) wholly independent of empirical assump- 

One of the premisses of the argument is obvious: that magical 
theories of reference are wrong, wrong for mental representa- 
tions and not only for physical ones. The other premiss is that 
one cannot refer to certain kinds of things, e.g. trees, if one has 
no causal interaction at all with them, 3 or with things in terms 

3 If the Brains in a Vat will have causal connection with, say, trees in the 
future, then perhaps they can now refer to trees by the description 'the 
things I will refer to as "trees" at such-and-such a future time*. But we 
are to imagine a case in which the Brains in a Vat never get out of the 
vat, and hence never get into causal connection with trees, etc. 

Brains in a vat 


of which they can be described. But why should we accept these 
premisses? Since these constitute the broad framework within 
which I am arguing, it is time to examine them more closely. 

The reasons for denying necessary connections between 
representations and their referents 

I mentioned earlier that some philosophers (most famously, 
Brentano) have ascribed to the mind a power, 'intentionality', 
which precisely enables it to refer. Evidently, I have rejected this 
as no solution. But what gives me this right? Have I, perhaps, 
been too hasty? 

These philosophers did not claim that we can think about 
external things or properties without using representations at all. 
And the argument I gave above comparing visual sense data to 
the ant's 'picture' (the argument via the science fiction story 
about the 'picture' of a tree that came from a paint-splash and 
that gave rise to sense data qualitatively similar to our 'visual 
images of trees', but unaccompanied by any concept of a tree) 
would be accepted as showing that images do not necessarily 
refer. If there are mental representations that necessarily refer (to 
external things) they must be of the nature of concepts and not 
of the nature of images. But what are concepts? 

When we introspect we do not perceive 'concepts' flowing 
through our minds as such. Stop the stream of thought when or 
where we will, what we catch are words, images, sensations, 
feelings. When I speak my thoughts out loud I do not think them 
twice. I hear my words as you do. To be sure it feels different to 
me when I utter words that I believe and when I utter words I 
do not believe (but sometimes, when I am nervous, or in front of 
a hostile audience, it feels as if I am lying when I know I am 
telling the truth); and it feels different when I utter words I 
understand and when I utter words I do not understand. But I 
can imagine without difficulty someone thinking just these 
words (in the sense of saying them in his mind) and having just 
the feeling of understanding, asserting, etc., that I do, and real- 
izing a minute later (or on being awakened by a hypnotist) that 
he did not understand what had just passed through his mind at 
all, that he did not even understand the language these words are 
in. I don't claim that this is very likely; I simply mean that there 


Brains in a vat 

is nothing at all unimaginable about this. And what this shows 
is not that concepts are words (or images, sensations, etc.), but 
that to attribute a 'concept' or a 'thought' to someone is quite 
different from attributing any mental 'presentation', any intro- 
spectible entity or event, to him. Concepts are not mental presen- 
tations that intrinsically refer to external objects for the very 
decisive reason that they are not mental presentations at all. 
Concepts are signs used in a certain way; the signs may be public 
or private, mental entities or physical entities, but even when the 
signs are 'mental' and 'private', the sign itself apart from its use 
is not the concept. And signs do not themselves intrinsically 

We can see this by performing a very simple thought experi- 
ment. Suppose you are like me and cannot tell an elm tree from 
a beech tree. We still say that the reference of 'elm' in my speech 
is the same as the reference of 'elm' in anyone else's, viz. elm 
trees, and that the set of all beech trees is the extension of 'beech' 
(i.e. the set of things the word 'beech' is truly predicated of) both 
in your speech and my speech. Is it really credible that the differ- 
ence between what 'elm' refers to and what 'beech' refers to is 
brought about by a difference in our concepts? My concept of 
an elm tree is exactly the same as my concept of a beech tree (I 
blush to confess). (This shows that the determination of refer- 
ence is social and not individual, by the way; you and I both 
defer to experts who can tell elms from beeches.) If someone 
heroically attempts to maintain that the difference between the 
reference of 'elm' and the reference of 'beech' in my speech is 
explained by a difference in my psychological state, then let him 
imagine a Twin Earth where the words are switched. Twin Earth 
is very much like Earth; in fact, apart from the fact that 'elm' 
and 'beech' are interchanged, the reader can suppose Twin Earth 
is exactly like Earth. Suppose I have a Doppelganger on Twin 
Earth who is molecule for molecule identical with me (in the 
sense in which two neckties can be 'identical'). If you are a dual- 
ist, then suppose my Doppelganger thinks the same verbalized 
thoughts I do, has the same sense data, the same dispositions, 
etc. It is absurd to think his psychological state is one bit differ- 
ent from mine: yet his word 'elm' represents beeches, and my 
word 'elm' represents elms. (Similarly, if the 'water' on Twin 
Earth is a different liquid - say, XYZ and not H 2 - then 'water' 

Brains in a vat 


represents a different liquid when used on Twin Earth and when 
used on Earth, etc.) Contrary to a doctrine that has been with us 
since the seventeenth century, meanings just aren't in the head. 

We have seen that possessing a concept is not a matter of pos- 
sessing images (say, of trees - or even images, 'visual' or 'acous- 
tic', of sentences, or whole discourses, for that matter) since one 
could possess any system of images you please and not possess 
the ability to use the sentences in situationally appropriate ways 
(considering both linguistic factors - what has been said 
before -and non-linguistic factors as determining 'situational 
appropriateness'). A man may have all the images you please, 
and still be completely at a loss when one says to him 'point to 
a tree', even if a lot of trees are present. He may even have the 
image of what he is supposed to do, and still not know what he 
is supposed to do. For the image, if not accompanied by the 
ability to act in a certain way, is just a picture, and acting in 
accordance with a picture is itself an ability that one may or may 
not have. (The man might picture himself pointing to a tree, but 
just for the sake of contemplating something logically possible; 
himself pointing to a tree after someone has produced the - to 
him meaningless - sequence of sounds 'please point to a tree'.) 
He would still not know that he was supposed to point to a tree, 
and he would still not understand 'point to a tree'. 

I have considered the ability to use certain sentences to be the 
criterion for possessing a full-blown concept, but this could eas- 
ily be liberalized. We could allow symbolism consisting of ele- 
ments which are not words in a natural language, for example, 
and we could allow such mental phenomena as images and other 
types of internal events. What is essential is that these should 
have the same complexity, ability to be combined with each 
other, etc., as sentences in a natural language. For, although a 
particular presentation - say, a blue flash - might serve a partic- 
ular mathematician as the inner expression of the whole proof 
of the Prime Number Theorem, still there would be no tempta- 
tion to say this (and it would be false to say this) if that mathe- 
matician could not unpack his 'blue flash' into separate steps and 
logical connections. But, no matter what sort of inner phenom- 
ena we allow as possible expressions of thought, arguments 
exactly similar to the foregoing will show that it is not the phe- 
nomena themselves that constitute understanding, but rather the 


Brains in a vat 

ability of the thinker to employ these phenomena, to produce 
the right phenomena in the right circumstances. 

The foregoing is a very abbreviated version of Wittgenstein's 
argument in Philosophical Investigations, If it is correct, then the 
attempt to understand thought by what is called 'phenomeno- 
logicaP investigation is fundamentally misguided; for what the 
phenomenologists fail to see is that what they are describing is 
the inner expression of thought, but that the understanding of 
that expression - one's understanding of one's own thoughts - 
is not an occurrence but an ability. Our example of a man pre- 
tending to think in Japanese (and deceiving a Japanese telepath) 
already shows the futility of a phenomenological approach to 
the problem oi understanding. For even if there is some intros- 
pectible quality which is present when and only when one really 
understands (this seems false on introspection, in fact), still that 
quality is only correlated with understanding, and it is still pos- 
sible that the man fooling the Japanese telepath have that quality 
too and still not understand a word of Japanese. 

On the other hand, consider the perfectly possible man who 
does not have any 'interior monologue' at all. He speaks per- 
fectly good English, and if asked what his opinions are on a 
given subject, he will give them at length. But he never thinks (in 
words, images, etc.) when he is not speaking out loud; nor does 
anything 'go through his head', except that (of course) he hears 
his own voice speaking, and has the usual sense impressions 
from his surroundings, plus a general 'feeling of understanding'. 
(Perhaps he is in the habit of talking to himself.) When he types 
a letter or goes to the store, etc., he is not having an internal 
'stream of thought'; but his actions are intelligent and purpose- 
ful, and if anyone walks up and asks him 'What are you doing?' 
he will give perfectly coherent replies. 

This man seems perfectly imaginable. No one would hesitate 
to say that he was conscious, disliked rock and roll (if he fre- 
quently expressed a strong aversion to rock and roll), etc., just 
because he did not think conscious thoughts except when speak- 
ing out loud. 

What follows from all this is that (a) no set of mental events - 
images or more 'abstract' mental happenings and qualities - 
constitutes understanding; and (b) no set of mental events is 
necessary for understanding. In particular, concepts cannot be 

Brains in a vat 


identical with mental objects of any kind. For, assuming that 
by a mental object we mean something introspectible, we have 
just seen that whatever it is, it may be absent in a man who 
does understand the appropriate word (and hence has the full 
blown concept), and present in a man who does not have the 
concept at all. 

Coming back now to our criticism of magical theories of ref- 
erence (a topic which also concerned Wittgenstein), we see that, 
on the one hand, those 'mental objects' we can introspectively 
detect - words, images, feelings, etc. - do not intrinsically refer 
any more than the ant's picture does (and for the same reasons), 
while the attempts to postulate special mental objects, 'con- 
cepts', which do have a necessary connection with their refer- 
ents, and which only trained phenomenologists can detect, com- 
mit a logical blunder; for concepts are (at least in part) abilities 
and not occurrences. The doctrine that there are mental presen- 
tations which necessarily refer to external things is not only bad 
natural science; it is also bad phenomenology and conceptual 

A problem about reference 

Why is it surprising that the Brain in a Vat hypothesis turns out 
to be incoherent? The reason is that we are inclined to think that 
what goes on inside our heads must determine what we mean 
and what our words refer to. But it is not hard to see that this is 
wrong. Ordinary indexical words, such as I, this, here, now, are 
a counterexample of a trivial sort. I may be in the same mental 
state as Henry when I think 'I am late to work' (imagine, if you 
like, that Henry and I are identical twins) and yet the token of 
the word T that occurs in my thought refers to me and the token 
of the word T that occurs in Henry's thought refers to Henry, I 
may be in the same mental state 1 when I think 'I am late to work' 
on Tuesday and when I think 'I am late to work' on Wednesday; 
but the time to which my tensed verb 'am' refers is different in 
the two cases. The case of natural kind terms is a more subtle 
example of the same point. 

Suppose, to spell out the case mentioned in the previous chap- 
ter, that there are English speakers on Twin Earth (by a kind of 

1 At least I may be in the 'same mental state' in the sense that the 
parameters involved in the psychological process that results in my 
thinking the thought may have the same values. My global mental state 
is, to be sure, different since on Tuesday I believe 'this is Tuesday' 
and on Wednesday I don't; but a theory that says the meaning of the 
words changes whenever my global mental state changes would 
not allow any words to ever have the same meaning, and would thus 
amount to an abandonment of the very notion of word meaning. 
Moreover, we could construct a Twin Earth story in which 1 and my 
Doppelganger are in the same global mental state, and the reference 
of T and 'now' is still different (the calendar on Twin Earth is not 
synchronized with ours). 

A problem about reference 


miraculous accident they just evolved resembling us and speak- 
ing a language which is, apart from a difference I am about to 
mention, identical with English as it was a couple of hundred 
years ago). I will assume these people do not yet have a knowl- 
edge of Daltonian or post-Daltonian chemistry. So, in particular, 
they don't have available such notions as 'H 2 0\ Suppose, now, 
that the rivers and lakes on Twin Earth are filled with a liquid 
that superficially resembles water, but which is not H 2 0. Then 
the word 'water' as used on Twin Earth refers not to water but 
to this other liquid (say, XYZ). Yet there is no relevant differ- 
ence in the mental state of Twin Earth speakers and speakers on 
Earth (in, say, 1750) which could account for this difference in 
reference. The reference is different because the stuff is differ- 
ent. 2 The mental state by itself, in isolation from the whole situ- 
ation, does not fix the reference. 

Some philosophers have objected to this example, however. 
These philosophers suggest that one should say, if such a planet 
is ever discovered, that 'There are two kinds of water', and not 
that our word 'water' does not refer to the Twin Earth liquid. If 
we ever find lakes and rivers full of a liquid other than H 2 that 
superficially resembles water, then we will have falsified the 
statement that all water is H 2 0, according to these critics. 

It is easy to modify the example so as to avoid this argument. 
First of all, the liquid on Twin Earth need not be that similar to 
water. Suppose it is actually a mixture of 20% grain alcohol and 
80% water, but the body chemistry of the Twin Earth people is 
such that they do not get intoxicated or even taste the difference 
between such a mixture and H 2 0. Such a liquid would be differ- 
ent from water in many ways; yet a typical speaker might be 
unacquainted with these differences, and thus be in exactly the 
same mental state as a typical speaker in 1750 on Earth. Of 
course Twin Earth 'water' tastes different from Earth water to 
us; but it does not taste different to them. And it behaves differ- 
ently when you boil it; but must an English speaker have noticed 
exactly when water boils and exactly what takes place in order 
to associate a fairly standard conceptual content with the word 

2 See 'The Meaning of "Meaning" ' in my Mind, Language, and Reality 
{Philosophical Papers, vol. 1), Cambridge University Press, 1975, for an 
extended discussion of this point. 


A problem about reference 

It may be objected that there might well be experts on Twin 
Earth who do know things about 'water' (for instance, that it is 
a mixture of two liquids) that we do not know about water (did 
not believe about water in 1750, because they aren't true of 
water), and hence that the collective mental state of Twin Earth 
English speakers is different from the collective mental state of 
Earth English speakers (in 1750). One might concede that the 
reference of a person's term isn't fixed by his individual mental 
state, but insist that the total mental state of all the members of 
the language community fixes the reference of the term. 

One difficulty with this is that it might not have been the case 
that people on Earth or Twin Earth had developed that much 
chemistry in 1750. If the term had the same meaning and refer- 
ence oh Earth prior to the development of chemistry that it does 
today (in ordinary use), and if the term had the same meaning 
and reference on Twin Earth prior to the development of the 
corresponding knowledge that it does today, then we can go 
back to this earlier time when the collective mental states of the 
two communities were the same in all respects relevant to fixing 
the extension of 'water', and argue that the extension was differ- 
ent then (as it is now) and so the collective mental state does not 
fix the extension. Should we then say the reference changed 
when chemistry was developed? That the term used to refer to 
both kinds of water (in spite of the difference in taste to us!), and 
only refers to different kinds after chemistry is developed? 

If we say that the reference of their terms or of our terms 
changed when they or we developed chemistry (to the extent of 
being able to distill liquids, tell that water plus alcohol is a mix- 
ture, etc.) then we will have to say that almost every scientific 
discovery changes the reference of our terms. We did not dis- 
cover that water (in the pre-scientific sense) was H 2 on such a 
view; rather we stipulated it. To me this seems clearly wrong. 
What we meant by water all along was whatever had the same 
nature as the local stuff picked out by that term; and we discov- 
ered that water in that sense was H 2 0; what the people on Twin 
Earth meant by 'water' all along was the stuff in their environ- 
ment picked out by that term, and their experts discovered that 
'water' in that sense is a mixture of two liquids. 

If we agree that 'water' does not change meaning (in either 
language) when experts make such discoveries as 'water is H 2 0' 

A problem about reference 


or 'water is a mixture of two liquids', or does not change its 
ordinary meaning and reference (of course it may develop more 
technical uses as a result of such discoveries), and that 'water' in 
its ordinary Earth meaning and reference does not include mix- 
tures of alcohol and water, then we must say that expert knowl- 
edge is not what accounts for the difference in the meaning of 
the word 'water' on Earth and on Twin Earth. Nor does it 
account for the reference: for we could consider yet another 
Twin Earth where water was a different mixture and the expert 
knowledge was the same (rather scanty) expert knowledge as on 
the first Twin Earth. Or, as just indicated, we could simply imag- 
ine that experts on Earth and on Twin Earth did not yet exist. 
The word 'water' would still refer to different stuff even if the 
collective mental state in the two communities were the same. 
What goes on inside people's heads does not fix the reference of 
their terms. In a phrase due to Mill, 'the substance itself com- 
pletes the job of fixing the extension of the term. 

Once we see that mental state (in either the individualistic or 
the collective sense) does not fix reference, then we should not 
be surprised that the Brains in a Vat could not succeed in refer- 
ring to external objects (even though they have the same mental 
states we have), and hence could not say or think that they are 
Brains in a Vat. 

Intentions, extensions, and 'notional worlds' 

In order to look at the problem of how the reference of our terms 
is fixed, given that it is not fixed simply by our mental states, it 
will be convenient to have available some technical terms. In 
logic the set of things a term is true of is called the extension of 
the term. Thus the extension of the term 'cat' is the set of cats. If 
a term has more than one sense, then we pretend the word car- 
ries invisible subscripts (so that there are really two words and 
not one), e.g. 'rabbit i - extension: the set of rabbits - 'rabbit 2 ' - 
extension: the set of cowards. (Strictly speaking, the extension 
of terms in a natural language is always somewhat fuzzy: but we 
shall pretend for simplicity that the borderline cases have been 
somehow legislated.) 

A word like T which refers to different people on different 
occasions will have not an extension but an extension- function: 


A problem about reference 

that is a function which determines an extension in each context 
of use. In the case of the word T the extension-function is rather 
simple; it is simply the function f(x) whose value for any speaker 
x is the set consisting of just x. The argument V which ranges 
over the relevant parameter used to describe the context (in this 
case, the speaker) is referred to in semantics as an index. Indices 
are needed for times, for things demonstratively referred to, and 
for yet other features of context in a full semantic treatment (but 
we shall ignore the details). 

The set of things which makes up the extension of 'cat' is dif- 
ferent in different possible situations or 'possible worlds'. In a 
possible world M in which there are no cats, the extension of 
'cat' is the empty set. If my cat Elsa had had offspring, then the 
extension of 'cat' would have at least one member it does not 
have in the actual world. (We can express this by saying that in 
each possible world M in which Elsa had offspring, the extension 
of 'cat' includes members it does not include in the actual 

We can indicate the way in which the extension of a term 
varies with the possible world M in exactly the way in which we 
indicate how the extension of the word T varies with the 
speaker: by using a function. We assume a set of abstract objects 
called 'possible worlds' to represent the various states of affairs 
or possible world histories, and we associate with the term 'cat' 
a function f(M) whose value on each possible world M is the set 
of possible objects which are cats in the world M. This function, 
following Montague and Carnap, I shall refer to as the inten- 
sion 3 of the word 'cat'. Similarly, the intension of the two-place 
predicate 'touches' is the function f(M) whose value on any pos- 
sible world M is the set of ordered pairs of possible objects which 
touch each other in the world M; the intension of the three-place 
predicate 'x is between y and z' is the function whose value in 
any possible world is the set of ordered triples [x, y, z) such that 
x is between y and z, and so on. The intension of a word like T, 
whose extension in any world is context-dependent, will be a 
more complicated function having as arguments both the possi- 
ble world and the indices representing the context. 

3 Montague, R., Formal Philosophy, Yale University, 1974. This use of 
'intension' is not the traditional one which I discussed in 'The 
Meaning of "Meaning" \ 

A problem about reference 


What the intension does is to specify how the extension 
depends on the possible world. It thus represents what we are 
interested in, the extension associated with a term, in a very 
complete way, since it says what that extension would have been 
in any possible world. 

The reason 'intension' (in this sense) cannot be identified with 
meaning is that any two terms which are logically equivalent 
have the same extension in every possible world, and hence the 
same intension, but a theory which cannot distinguish between 
terms with the same meaning and terms which are only equiva- 
lent in logic and mathematics is inadequate as a theory of mean- 
ing. 'Cube' and 'regular polyhedron with six square faces' are 
logically equivalent predicates. So the intension of these two 
terms is the same, namely the function whose value in any pos- 
sible world is the set of cubes in that world; but there is a differ- 
ence in meaning which would be lost if we simply identified the 
meaning with this function. 

Let me emphasize that possible worlds, sets, and functions are 
to be thought of as abstract extra-mental entities in this theory, 
and not to be confused with representations or descriptions of 
these entities. 

Frege thought that the meaning (Sinn) of an expression was 
an extra-mental entity or concept which could somehow be 
'grasped' by the mind. Such a theory cannot help us with inten- 
sions in our sense. In the first place, as just noted, there are dif- 
ferences in meaning which are not captured by intension; so the 
understanding of a term cannot consist only in associating it 
with an intension. More important, if we assume that we have 
no 'sixth sense' which enables us to directly perceive extra-men- 
tal entities, or to do something analogous to perceiving them 
('intuiting' them, perhaps), then 'grasping' an intension, or any 
extra-mental entity, must be mediated by representations in 
some way. (This also seems clear introspectively, to me at least.) 
But the whole problem we are investigating is how representa- 
tions can enable us to refer to what is outside the mind. To 
assume the notion of 'grasping' an X which is external to the 
mind would be to beg the whole question. 

If I say of someone that he 'believes there is a glass of water 
on the table', then I normally attribute to him the capacity to 
refer to water. But, as we have seen, being able to refer to water 


A problem about reference 

requires being directly or indirectly linked to actual water 
(H 2 0); the statement 'John believes there is a glass of water in 
front of him' is not just a statement about what goes on in John's 
head, but is in part a statement about John's environment, and 
John's relationship to that environment. If it turns out that John 
is a Twin Earth person, then what John believes when he says 
'there is a glass of water on the table' is that there is a glass 
containing a liquid which in fact consists of water and grain 
alcohol on the table. 

Husserl introduced a device which is useful when we wish to 
talk of what goes on in someone's head without any assumptions 
about the existence or nature of actual things referred to by the 
thoughts: the device of bracketing. 4 If we 'bracket' the belief that 
we ascribe to John when we say 'John believes that there is a 
glass of water on the table' then what we ascribe to John is sim- 
ply the mental state of an actual or possible person who believes 
that there is a glass of water on the table (in the full 'unbrack- 
eted' ordinary sense). Thus, if John on Twin Earth cannot taste 
the difference between water and water-cum-grain-alcohol, he 
may be in the same mental state as an actual or possible speaker 
of Earth English when he says 'there is a glass of water on the 
table', notwithstanding the fact that what he refers to as water 
would make a reasonable highball. We will say that he has the 
bracketed belief that [there is a glass of water on the table]. In 
effect, the device of bracketing subtracts entailments from the 
ordinary belief locution (all the entailments that refer to the 
external world, or to what is external to the thinker's mind). 

Daniel Dennett has recently used the locution 'notional world' 
in a way related to the way Husserl used bracketing. 5 The total- 
ity of a thinker's bracketed beliefs constitute the description of 
the thinker's notional world, in Dennett's sense. Thus, people on 
Twin Earth have roughly the same notional world (and even the 
same notional water) that we do; it is just that they live on a 
different real planet (and refer to different actual stuff as 
'water'). And the Brains in a Vat of the previous chapter could 
have had the same notional world we do down to the last detail, 

4 Husserl, Ideas; General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, Allen and 

Unwin, 1969. (Originally appeared in 1913). 
s Dennett, D. 'Beyond Belief', in Thought and Object, Andrew Woodfield 

(ed.), Oxford University Press, forthcoming. 

A problem about reference 


if you like; it is just that none of their terms had any external 
world reference at all. The traditional theory of meaning 
assumed that a thinker's notional world determines the inten- 
sions of his terms (and these, together with the fact that a partic- 
ular possible world M is the actual one, determine the extensions 
of the terms and the truth- values of all the sentences). We have 
seen that the traditional theory of meaning is wrong; and this is 
why the literature today contains many different concepts (e.g., 
'intension' and 'notional world') and not a single unitary con- 
cept of 'meaning'. 'Meaning' has fallen to pieces. But we are left 
with the task of picking up the pieces. If intension and extension 
are not directly fixed by notional world, then how are they 

The received view of interpretation 

The most common view of how interpretations of our language 
are fixed by us, collectively if not individually, is associated with 
the notions of an operational constraint and a theoretical con- 
straint. Operational constraints were originally conceived of 
rather naively; we simply stipulate (conventionally, as it were) 
that a certain sentence (say, 'Electricity is flowing through this 
wire') is to be true if and only if a certain test result is observed 
(the voltmeter needle being deflected, or, in a phenomenalistic 
version, my having the visual impression of seeing the voltmeter 
needle being deflected). This sort of crude operationalism no 
longer has any defenders because it has been appreciated that (1) 
the links between theory and experience are probabilistic and 
cannot be correctly formalized as perfect correlations (even if 
there is current flowing through the wire, there are always low 
probability events or background conditions which could pre- 
vent the voltmeter needle from being deflected); and (2) even 
these probabilistic links are not simple semantic correlations, but 
depend on empirical theory which is subject to revision. On a 
naive operationist account every time a new way of testing 
whether a substance is really gold is discovered, the meaning and 
reference of 'gold' undergoes a change. (In fact, we shouldn't 
speak of a new test for gold being discovered,) On an operation- 
ist picture, theories are tested sentence by sentence (the stipu- 
lated operational meanings of the individual sentences tell you 


A problem about reference 

how to go about testing the theory); on the more recent picture, 
theories 'meet the test of experience as a corporate body', as 
Quine puts it. 

It is possible, however, to relax the notion of an operational 
constraint so as to overcome or bypass all of these objections. 
Thus one can restrict the class of interpretations (assignments of 
intensions to the predicates of one's language) that will be 
accepted as admissible by constraints of the form: 'an admissible 
interpretation is such that most of the time the sentence S is true 
when the experiential condition £ is fulfilled' (respectively, 'such 
that most of the time the sentence S is false when £ is fulfilled'). 
Such constraints model the idea that there are probabilistic rela- 
tions between truth or falsity of sentences in the language and 
experience. And, secondly, one can take the view that these con- 
straints are revisable as theory develops. Rather than thinking of 
them as meaning stipulations, as crude operationism did, one 
can think of them as tentative restrictions on the class of admis- 
sible interpretations; and with Peirce (who wrote 50 years before 
Bridgeman announced 'operationism'!) one can take the view 
that the ideal set of operational constraints is itself something 
that we successively approximate in the course of empirical 
inquiry, and not something we just stipulate. In short, one can 
take the view that it is the operational constraints that rational 
inquirers would impose, if they observed and experimented and 
reasoned as well as is possible, the constraints that they would 
adopt in the state of 'reflective equilibrium', that singles out the 
interpretation of our terms; the constraints we actually accept at 
any given time have the status of a rational estimate or approx- 

Such a view is compatible with Quine's insistence that the 
theory-experience links are just as much subject to revision as 
any other aspect of our corporate body of knowledge. And it 
does not see each such revision as a 'meaning change': such revi- 
sions can be and often are simply better efforts to specify what 
it is we have already been talking about; that which earlier the- 
ory-cum-operational-constraints captured only inadequately. 

In addition to restricting the class of admissible interpretations 
by means of operational constraints (or successive approxima- 
tions to a Peircian ideal set of operational constraints), one can 
also have constraints which refer to formal properties of the the- 

A problem about reference 


ory. For example, 'an admissible interpretation is such that it 
turns out to be true that different effects always have different 
causes'. Kant held that such a 'theoretical constraint' was part of 
rationality itself: we impose the principle of determinism on the 
world rather than discovering it. In this form, the constraint is 
certainly too strong: the price of preserving determinism might 
be too great a complication of our system of knowledge as a 
whole. But this sort of constraint can be relaxed just as opera- 
tional constraints have been relaxed. (For example, one can 
require that determinism be preserved whenever the 'cost' in 
terms of complications in other parts of the theory is not too 
great; in this form, the constraint seems to be one we accept.) 

Theoretical constraints are often stated as constraints on the- 
ory acceptance rather than as constraints on theory interpreta- 
tion, but they can easily be reinterpreted to play the latter role. 
Thus, if an author states the constraint of 'conservativism' or 
'preservationism' as a constraint on theory acceptance ('do not 
accept a theory which requires giving up a great many previously 
accepted beliefs if an - otherwise equally 'simple' - theory is 
available which preserves those beliefs and agrees with observa- 
tion'), then we can reformulate the constraint as a constraint on 
interpretation thus: 'an admissible interpretation is such that it 
renders true sentences which have been accepted for a long time, 
except where this would require undue complication in the the- 
ory consisting of the set of sentences true under the interpreta- 
tion, or too great a revision in the operational constraints'. 
Again, it has been widely held that no inductive logic is possible 
unless we impose some a priori ordering (called a 'simplicity 
ordering' or 'plausibility ordering') on the hypotheses which 
may be accepted given particular observational data (although 
the ordering may itself be different in different experimental or 
observational contexts); the constraint that 'the set of sentences 
which is true under an admissible interpretation must not be 
lower down in the simplicity ordering than any other set with 
the same observational or experiential consequences would cor- 
respond to the constraint in inductive logic that one is to accept 
the most simple (or most 'plausible') of the hypotheses compat- 
ible with one's observations. 

Theoretical constraints of many other kinds have been pro- 
posed in the literature of the philosophy of science. There are 



A problem about reference 

A problem about reference 


constraints which, like 'simplicity', refer to properties of the set 
of accepted sentences, and constraints which refer to the history 
of the inquiry by which that set came to be accepted. But the 
details need not concern us. The reasons for being attracted to 
the idea that the admissible interpretations of our language (in 
the sense of admissible intension-assignments to the terms of the 
language) are fixed by operational and theoretical constraints 
are obvious: whether or not one is having an experience of a 
certain kind is something the mind is able to judge (philosophical 
problems about 'experience' notwithstanding). So if a theory 
implies or contains a sentence which is associated with an expe- 
rience E by an operational constraint of some kind, probabilistic 
or whatever, then the thinker can know if the theory works, or 
if there is some awkwardness of fit, at least in this case, by seeing 
whether or not he has the experience E. Since the constraints 
that we use to test the theory also fix the extensions of the terms, 
the thinker's estimate of the 'theory's 'working' is at the same 
time an estimate of its truth. Since the speaker's knowledge of 
these constraints is knowledge of the intensions of the terms, 
grasping a correct semantics would tell one, for any proposed 
theory of the world, what our world would have to be like for 
the theory to be true. 

Furthermore, if we idealize by supposing thinkers to have 
what economists call 'perfect information' about each other, 
each thinker knows the formal structure of the accepted theory 
T and the past history of the research program to which it 
belongs, the previous beliefs that it does or does not preserve, 
etc. So each thinker is in a position to know if the theoretical 
constraints are met or not. (If we do not wish to idealize by 
assuming perfect information, then we can still say that the col- 
lective body of thinkers is in a position to know this.) 

In short, if the received view is correct, then we would have an 
elegant account of how intensions and extensions are fixed (in 
principle - of course the details are too complicated to fill in at 
the present stage of methodological knowledge). But, unfortu- 
nately, the received view does not work! 

Why the received view doesn't work 

The difficulty with the received view is that it tries to fix the 
intensions and extensions of individual terms by fixing the truth- 

conditions for whole sentences. The idea, as we just saw, is that 
the operational and theoretical constraints (the ones rational 
inquirers would accept in some sort of ideal limit of inquiry) 
determine which sentences in the language are true. Even if this 
is right, however, such constraints cannot determine what our 
terms refer to. For there is nothing in the notion of an opera- 
tional or theoretical constraint to do this directly. And doing it 
indirectly, by putting down constraints which pick out the set of 
true sentences, and then hoping that by determining the truth- 
values of whole sentences we can somehow fix what the terms 
occurring in those sentences refer to, won't work. 

That it won't work has been shown by Quine. 6 I shall extend 
previous 'indeterminacy' results in a very strong way. I shall 
argue that even if we have constraints of whatever nature which 
determine the truth-value of every sentence in a language in 
every possible world, still the reference of individual terms 
remains indeterminate. In fact, it is possible to interpret the 
entire language in violently different ways, each of them com- 
patible with the requirement that the truth-value of each sen- 
tence in each possible world be the one specified. In short, not 
only does the received view not work; no view which only fixes 
the truth-values of whole sentences can fix reference, even if it 
specifies truth-values for sentences in every possible world. 

The detailed proof is technical, and I think it appropriate to 
give it in an Appendix. What I shall give here is an illustration of 
the method of the proof only, and not the detailed proof. 

Consider the sentence 

(1) A cat is on a mat. (Here and in the sequel 'is on' is 
tenseless, i.e. it means 'is, was, or will be on'.) 

Under the standard interpretation this is true in those possible 
worlds in which there is at least one cat on at least one mat at 
some time, past, present, or future. Moreover, 'cat' refers to cats 
and 'mat' refers to mats. I shall show that sentence (1) can be 
reinterpreted so that in the actual world 'cat' refers to cherries 
and 'mat' refers to trees without affecting the truth-value of sen- 
tence (1) in any possible world. ('Is on' will keep its original 

6 See his 'Ontological Relativity*, in Ontological Relativity and Other 
Essays, Columbia University Press, 1969. 


A problem about reference 

The idea is that sentence (1) will receive a new interpretation 
in which what it will come to mean is: 

(a) A cat* is on a mat*. 

The definition of the property of being a cat* (respectively, a 
mat*) is given by cases, the three cases being: 

(a) Some cat is on some mat, and some cherry is on some 

(b) Some cat is on some mat, and no cherry is on any 

(c) Neither of the foregoing. 

Here is the definition of the two properties: 


x is a cat* if and only if case (a) holds and x is a cherry; 
or case (b) holds and x is a cat; or case (c) holds and x is 
a cherry. 


x is a mat* if and only if case (a) holds and x is a tree; 
or case (b) holds and x is a mat; or case (c) holds and 
x is a quark. 

Now, in possible worlds falling under case (a), 'A cat is on a 
mat' is true, and 'A cat* is on a mat*' is also true (because a 
cherry is on a tree, and all cherries are cats* and all trees are 
mats* in worlds of this kind). Since in the actual world some 
cherry is on some tree, the actual world is a world of this kind, 
and in the actual world 'cat*' refers to cherries and 'mat*' refers 
to trees. 

In possible worlds falling under case (b), 'A cat is on a mat' is 
true, and 'A cat* is on a mat*' is also true (because in worlds 
falling under case (b), 'cat' and 'cat*' are coextensive terms and 
so are 'mat' and 'mat*'). (Note that although cats are cats* in 
some worlds - the ones falling under case (b) - they are not 
cats* in the actual world.) 

In possible worlds falling under case (c), 'A cat is on a mat' is 
false and 'A cat* is on a mat*' is also false (because a cherry 
can't be on a quark). 

Summarizing, we see that in every possible world a cat is on a 
mat if and only if a cat* is on a mat*. Thus, reinterpreting the 

A problem about reference 


word 'cat' by assigning to it the intension we just assigned to 
'cat*' and simultaneously reinterpreting the word 'mat' by 
assigning to it the intension we just assigned to 'mat*' would 
only have the effect of making 'A cat is on a mat' mean what 'A 
cat* is on a mat*' was defined to mean; and this would be per- 
fectly compatible with the way truth-values are assigned to 'A 
cat is on a mat' in every possible world. 

In the Appendix, I show that a more complicated reinterpre- 
tation of this kind can be carried out for all the sentences of a 
whole language. It follows that there are always infinitely many 
different interpretations of the predicates of a language which 
assign the 'correct' truth-values to the sentences in all possible 
worlds, no matter bow these 'correct 9 truth-values are singled 
out. Quine argued for a similar conclusion in Word and Object; 
in Quine's example (as applied to English) 'There is a rabbit over 
there' was interpreted to mean 'There is a rabbit-slice over there' 
(where a 'rabbit-slice' is a three-dimensional spatial cross- 
section of the whole four-dimensional space-time rabbit), or, 
alternatively again, to mean, 'There is rabbithood being exem- 
plified again.' (This last reinterpretation also reinterprets the 
syntactic form of the sentence, or at least its logical grammar.) 
Quine makes the point I just made, that truth -conditions for 
whole sentences underdetermine reference. Since 'rabbit-slices', 
'rabbithood', and 'undetached rabbit-parts' all have a close con- 
nection to rabbits, one might come away from Word and Object 
with the impression that all reinterpretations that leave a sen- 
tence's truth-value unchanged are at least closely connected with 
the standard interpretation (in the way that rabbit-parts and rab- 
bithood are connected with rabbits). The argument spelled out 
in the Appendix and illustrated in this chapter shows that the 
truth conditions for 'A cat is on a mat' don't even exclude the 
possibility that 'cat' refers to cherries. 

'Intrinsic' and 'extrinsic' 

Perhaps the first idea that comes to mind when one is confronted 
by non-standard interpretations, such as the one that interprets 
'cat' as cat * and 'mat' as mat* is to dismiss them as presenting 
us with an unimportant paradox. But genuine paradoxes are 
never unimportant; they always show something is wrong with 


A problem about reference 

the way we have been thinking. Perhaps the second reaction is to 
protest that cat* and mat* are 'queer' properties; surely our 
terms correspond to 'sensible' properties (such as being a cat or 
being a mat) and not to such 'funny' properties as these. One 
might explicate the way in which cat* (or, rather, cathood* or 
cat* hood) is a funny property by pointing out that one can 
'build a machine' to 'inspect' things and 'tell' whether or not 
they are cats (a human being is such a 'machine'), but one cannot 
build a machine that will tell (in any world which resembles ours 
in its laws and general conditions) whether or not something is 
a cat*. If the machine (or a person) looks at something and sees 
it is neither a cat nor a cherry, then they can tell it is not a cat*; 
but if the thing is either a cat or a cherry then the device or the 
person needs to be informed of the truth- values of 'A cat is on a 
mat' and 'A cherry is on a tree' to decide if it is inspecting or 
seeing a cat*, and these truth- values go beyond what it can learn 
by just examining the object presented to it for inspection. 

Unfortunately, one can reinterpret 'sees' (say, as sees*) so that 
the two sentences (3) John (or whoever) sees a cat; and (4) John 
sees* a cat*, will have the same truth-value in every possible 
world (by the method given in the Appendix). So whenever a 
person sees a cat, he is seeing* a cat*; the experience we typically 
have when we see a cat is the experience we typically have when 
we see* a cat*, and so on. Similarly, we can reinterpret 'inspects' 
and 'tells' so that, when a machine inspects a cat, it is inspecting* 
a cat*, and when it 'tells' something is a cat, it is telling* that it 
is a cat*. 

To use an illustration (suggested by Nozick), suppose half of 
us (the females perhaps) use 'cat' to mean 'cat*', 'mat' to mean 
'mat*', 'look' to mean 'look*', 'tells' to mean 'tells*', and so on. 
Suppose the other half (the males) use 'cat' to denote cats, 'mat' 
to denote mats, 'look' to denote looking, and so on. How could 
we ever know? 7 (If you ask a male what 'cat' refers to, he will 
answer 'to cats, of course' and so will a female, whatever 'cat' 
refers to.) 

7 A female might answer that the supposition that she is referring to 
cats* when she says 'cat' is incoherent {because within her language 
whatever she refers to as a 'cat' is a cat). This answer is small comfort; it 
does not exclude the possibility that what she calls a cat is what males 
call a cat*, and vice versa; and this is Nozick's point. 

A problem about reference 


The point is that the fact that one can build a machine to 
inspect things and tell if they are cats differentiates cats from 
cats* if one can be sure 'inspect' and 'tell' refer to inspecting and 
telling, and it is no easier to say how the reference of these words 
is fixed than to say how the reference of 'cat' is fixed. One might 
say that when I look at something and think that it is a cat, my 
'mental representations', the visual images or tactile images, the 
verbalized thought 'cat', and so on, refer to cathood and to var- 
ious other physical or biological properties (being a certain 
shape, being a certain color, belonging to a certain species) and 
not to their counterparts; this may be true, but it just repeats 
that the reference is fixed one way rather than the other. This is 
what we want to explain and not the explanation sought. 

'But,' one might protest, 'the definitions oV'cat*" and"mat*" 
given above refer to things other than the object in question 
(cherries on trees and cats on mats), and thus signify extrinsic 
properties of the objects that have these properties. In the actual 
world, every cherry is a cat*; but it would not be a cat*, even 
though its intrinsic properties would be exactly the same, if no 
cherry were on any tree. In contrast, whether or not something is 
a cat depends only upon its intrinsic properties.' Is the distinc- 
tion here referred to, the distinction between intrinsic and extrin- 
sic properties, one that will enable us to characterize and rule 
out 'queer' interpretations? 

The trouble with this suggestion is a certain symmetry in the 
relation of 'cat' and 'mat' to 'cat*' and 'mat*'. Thus, suppose we 
define 'cherry*' and 'tree*' so that in possible worlds falling 
under case (a) cherries* are cats and trees* are mats; in possible 
worlds falling under case (b) cherries* are cherries and trees* are 
trees; and in possible worlds falling under case (c) cherries* are 
cats and trees* are photons. Then we can define 'cat' and 'mat' 
by means of the *-terms as follows: Cases: 

(a*) Some cat* is on some mat*, and some cherry* is on 

some tree*. 
(b*) Some cat* is on some mat*, and no cherry* is on 

any tree*. 
(c*) Neither of the foregoing. 

Strangely enough, these cases are just our old (a), (b), (c) under 
a new description. Now we define: 

38 A problem about reference 


x is a cat if case (a*) holds and x is a cherry*; or case 
(b * ) holds and x is a cat * ; or case (c * ) holds and x is a 
cherry*. (Note that in all three cases cats come out being 


x is a mat if and only if case (a*) holds and x is a tree*; 
or case (b*) holds andx is a mat*; or case (c*) holds 
and* is a quark*. (Supposing quark* to be defined so 
that in cases of type (c * ) quarks * are mats, in all three 
cases mats come out being mats.) 

The upshot is that viewed from the perspective of a language 
which takes 'cat*', 'mat*', etc., as primitive properties, it is 'cat' 
and 'mat' that refer to 'extrinsic' properties, properties whose 
definitions mention objects other than x; while relative to 'nor- 
mal' language, language which takes 'cat' and 'mat' to refer to 
cathood and mathood {you know which properties I mean, dear 
reader!), it is 'cat*' and 'mat*' that refer to 'extrinsic' properties. 
Better put, being 'intrinsic' or 'extrinsic' are relative to a choice 
of which properties one takes as basic; no property is intrinsic or 
extrinsic in itself. 

'Survival' and evolution 

The suggestion is popular nowadays that the evolutionary pro- 
cess itself has somehow produced a correspondence between our 
words and mental representations and external things; people 
say that we would not have survived if there had not been such 
a correspondence, and that this correspondence is, at least in a 
primitive way, the relation of reference. 

But what do 'correspondence' and 'reference' have to do with 
survival? For that matter, what does truth have to do with sur- 

Here opinions differ. Some philosophers believe that we 
would not survive if (sufficiently many of) our beliefs were not 
true. Other philosophers claim that even our best established sci- 
entific beliefs aren't true, or at least that we have no reason to 
think they are. Thomas Kuhn has suggested that our beliefs only 
'refer' to objects within those beliefs (somewhat in the way in 

A problem about reference 


which 'Hamlet' only refers to a person in a play); the success of 
science is explained by trial-and-error, not by any correspon- 
dence between its objects and real things, Kuhn says. Bas van 
Fraassen, in a new book, argues that a successful theory need 
not be true but only 'observationally adequate', i.e. correctly 
predict observation. He too explains the success (or 'observa- 
tional adequacy') of science as the product of trial-and-error. 

If these philosophers are right, then the whole idea of using 
evolution to justify belief in an objective relation of reference is 
undercut. Evolution, on such instrumentalist views, only estab- 
lishes a correspondence between some terms (the observation 
terms) and 'permanent possibilities of sensation'. Such a corre- 
spondence is not reference, unless we are willing to abandon the 
idea that external things (the observable ones) are more than 
constructs out of sensations. 

I believe that the other philosophers are right, however (the 
ones who say we would not survive if sufficiently many of our 
beliefs were not true). 

The reason I believe this is that trial-and-error does not 
explain why our theories are 'observationally adequate'; that 
can only be explained by referring to characteristics of the envi- 
ronment-human interaction which explain why trial-and-error 
is successful. (Trial-and-error does not succeed in all enterprises, 
after all!) To posit that the interaction produces in our minds 
false theories which just happen to have successful predictions 
as consequences is to posit a totally inexplicable series of coin- 
cidences. But how does the fact that our beliefs are (approxi- 
mately) true explain our survival? 

Some of our beliefs are intimately connected with action. If I 
believe the sentence 'I will get something I value very much if I 
push that button' (assume I understand this sentence in a normal 
way, or at least associate the normal 'bracketed' or 'notional' 
belief with it), then I will reach out my hand and push the but- 
ton. Call beliefs of the form 'If I do x, I will get . . .', where the 
blank describes a goal the agent has, directive beliefs. If too 
many of our directive beliefs are false, we will perform too many 
unsuccessful actions; so truth of (sufficiently many of) our direc- 
tive beliefs is necessary for survival. 

Now, our directive beliefs are themselves derived from many 
other beliefs: beliefs about the characteristics and causal powers 


A problem about reference 

of external things, and beliefs about our own characteristics and 
powers. If these beliefs were mainly false, would it not be a mere 
coincidence if they nonetheless led to true prediction of experi- 
ence and to true directive beliefs? So, since (sufficiently many of) 
our directive beliefs are true, and the best explanation of this fact 
is that many of our other beliefs (the ones constituting our 'the- 
ory of the everyday world') are at least approximately true, we 
are justified in believing that our theory of the everyday world is 
at least approximately true, and that we would not have sur- 
vived if this were not the case. 

Imagine, now, that some of us are actually referring to the, 
things that are assigned to our terms by the non-standard inter- 
pretation / (described in the Appendix). This interpretation 
agrees with the standard interpretation on terms referring to our 
notional world, our sensations, our volitions, etc. So 'I seem to 
myself to push the button', when understood in the 'bracketed 
sense' (as meaning that I have a certain subjective experience of 
voluntarily pushing a button) has not just the same truth condi- 
tions but the same interpretation under/ and under the 'normal' 
interpretation I, and so does 'I seem to myself to get the satisfac- 
tion I expected.' 

Now, if sufficiently many of our directive beliefs are true 
under the non-standard interpretation /, then we will certainly 
be successful, and we will certainly survive (since if we weren't 
alive we wouldn't be attaining these goals) and have offspring 
(since if they weren't alive they wouldn't be attaining these 
goals). In short, /-truth of (sufficiently many) directive beliefs is 
as good for 'evolutionary success' as J-truth. In fact it is /-truth, 
since the truth conditions for every sentence (not just directive 
beliefs) are the same under I and under /. My directive beliefs 
are not only associated with the same subjective experience un- 
der the interpretation I and under the interpretation/; they have 
the same truth conditions. From the point of view (or non-point 
of view) of 'evolution', all that is necessary is that sufficiently 
many of my beliefs be true under any interpretation that con- 
nects those beliefs with the relevant actions. Evolution may pro- 
duce in me a tendency to have true beliefs (of certain kinds); but 
this only means that evolution affects linguistically mediated or 
conceptually mediated survival via its tendency to produce in us 
representation systems whose sentences or sentence-analogues 

A problem about reference 


have certain truth conditions (and certain action conditions, or 
'language exit rules'). But the truth-conditions for whole sen- 
tences were just shown not to determine the reference of sen- 
tence parts (nor does adding the 'language exit rules' help, for 
these are preserved under/). It follows that it is simply a mistake 
to think that evolution determines a unique correspondence (or 
even a reasonably narrow range of correspondences) between 
referring expressions and external objects. 

Intentions: pure and impure 

We have seen that nature does not single out any one correspon- 
dence between our terms and external things. Nature gets us to 
process words and thought signs in such a way that sufficiently 
many of our directive beliefs will be true, and so that sufficiently 
many of our actions will contribute to our 'inclusive genetic fit- 
ness'; but this leaves reference largely indeterminate. W. V. 
Quine has urged that that is what reference in fact is - indeter- 
minate! It is just an illusion, he thinks, that the terms in our 
language have determinate well-defined counterparts. As he puts 

For, consider again our standard regimented nota- 
tion, with a lexicon of interpreted predicates and some 
fixed range of values for the variables of quantifica- 
tion. The sentences of this language that are true remain 
true under countless reinterpretations of the predicates 
and revisions of the range of values of the variables. 
Indeed any range of the same size can be made to serve by 
a suitable reinterpretation of the predicates. If the range 
of values is infinite, any infinite range can be made to 
serve; this is the Skolem-Lowenheim theorem. The true 
sentences stay true under all such changes. 

Perhaps then our primary concern belongs with the 
truth of sentences and with their truth conditions, rather 
than with the reference of terms. 

In the next chapter I will explore the alternative here sug- 
gested, of giving up the idea that has so far been the premiss of 
the entire discussion: that words stand in some sort of one-one 
relation to (discourse-independent) things and sets of things. It 


A problem about reference 

may seem, however, that there is a much simpler way out: why 
not just say that it is our intentions, implicit or explicit, that fix 
the reference of our terms? 

At the beginning of the discussion in the previous chapter, I 
rejected this as not constituting an informative answer on the 
ground that having intentions (of the relevant kind) presupposes 
the ability to refer. It may be good at this stage to expand upon 
this brief remark. 

The problem is that the notions 'intention' and 'mental state' 
have a certain ambiguity. Let us call a mental state a pure mental 
state if its presence or absence depends only on what goes on 
'inside' the speaker. Thus whether or not I have a pain depends 
only on what goes on 'inside' me, but whether or not I know 
that snow is white depends not only on whether or not some- 
thing goes on 'inside' me (believing or being confident that snow 
is white), but also on whether or not snow is white, and thus is 
something 'outside' my body and mind. Thus pain is a pure men- 
tal state but knowledge is an impure mental state. There is a 
(pure) mental state component to knowledge, but there is also a 
component which is not mental in any sense: this is the compo- 
nent that corresponds to the condition that what a man believes 
is not knowledge unless the belief is true. I am not in the 'state' 
of knowing that snow is white if I am not in a suitable pure 
mental state; but being in a suitable pure mental state is never 
sufficient for knowing that snow is white; the world has to coop- 
erate as well. 

What about belief? We have defined bracketed belief 
('notional world') so that having a bracketed belief that [there is 
water on the table] or having a notional world which includes 
there being water on the table is a pure mental state. But, in 
accordance with what was said before, believing that there is 
water on the table (without any 'bracketing') presupposes that 
one's word 'water' actually refers to water, and this depends on 
the actual nature of certain 'paradigms', one's direct or indirect 
causal relations to those paradigms, and so on. When I have the 
belief that there is water on the table, my Doppleganger on Twin 
Earth has the same bracketed belief but not the same belief 
because his word 'water' refers to water-with-grain alcohol and 
not to water. In short, believing that there is water on the table 
is an impure mental state. (Brains in a Vat could not be in this 

A problem about reference 


state, although they could be in the corresponding 'bracketed' 

What goes for belief goes for intention as well. Pure mental 
states of intending - e.g. intending that the term 'water' refer to 
water in one's notional world - do not fix real world reference 
at all. Impure mental states of intending - e.g. intending that the 
term 'water' refer to actual water - presuppose the ability to 
refer to (real) water. 

Some philosophers have suggested that belief can be defined 
in terms of the state I called 'bracketed belief and reference, 

John believes that snow is white = John believes that 

[snow is white] 

(i.e. snow is white in John's notional world) 

and the words 'snow' and 'white' in John's thought (or 

whatever words he uses to express this belief) refer 

to snow and to the property white, respectively. 

Without accepting this as a correct and complete analysis of 
what it is to believe that snow is white, we can accept this 
account as making a point which is certainly correct: that believ- 
ing presupposes the ability to refer. And in exactly the same way, 
intending presupposes the ability to refer! Intentions are not 
mental events that cause words to refer: intentions (in the ordi- 
nary 'impure' sense) have reference as an integral component. 
To explain reference in terms of (impure) intention would be 
circular. And the problem of how pure mental states of intend- 
ing, believing, etc., can (in the proper causal setting) constitute 
or cause reference is just what we have found so puzzling. 

The origin of the puzzle 

At first blush, nothing seems more obvious than that our words 
and mental representations refer. When I think or say 'the cat 
just went out', the thought is usually about our cat Mitty; the 
word 'cat' in the sentence I think or say refers to a set of entities 
of which Mitty is a member. Yet we have just seen that the 
nature of this relation of 'aboutness' or reference is puzzling. 

The distinction between real world and notional world (and 
the correlative distinction between beliefs and bracketed beliefs, 


A problem about reference 

or intentions and bracketed intentions) itself explains part of the 
puzzle. The reason that it is surprising and troubling to discover 
that there are unintended 'admissible interpretations' of our lan- 
guage (where by an admissible interpretation I mean simply an 
interpretation that satisfies the appropriate operational and the- 
oretical constraints) is, in part, that no such 'indeterminacy' rises 
in the 'notional world' of the speaker. In my notional world, cats 
and cats* are quite distinct (in fact, in my notional world cats* 
are cherries). 'There is a cat on a mat' and 'there is a cat* on a 
mat*' may be logically equivalent, but they contain terms with 
quite different notional referents; thus it seems strange indeed 
that there should be any confusion between the real world refer- 
ents of the one belief and the real world referents of the other. 
But if the number of cats happens to be equal to the number 
of cherries, then it follows from theorems in the theory of models 
(as Quine remarks in the passage quoted above) that there is a 
reinterpretation of the entire language that leaves all sentences 
unchanged in truth value while permuting the extensions of 'cat' 
and 'cherry'. By the techniques just mentioned, such reinterpre- 
tations can be constructed so as to preserve all operational and 
theoretical constraints (and by the techniques we illustrated with 
the 'cat/cat*' example, they can be extended so as to provide 
'intensions', or functions which determine an extension in each 
possible world, and not just extensions in the actual world). This 
does not contradict the statements just made about our 'notional 
world', or subjective belief system, for the following reason: the 
fact that in our belief system or 'notional world' no cat is a 
cherry means that in each admissible interpretation of that belief 
system (each assignment of external world referents to the terms, 
images, and other representations we employ in thought) the 
referents of 'cat' and the referents of 'cherry' must be disjoint 
sets. But the disjointness of these sets is comparable with the 
(remarkable) fact that what is the set of 'cats' in one admissible 
interpretation may be the set of 'cherries' in a different (but 
equally admissible) interpretation. From the fact that notional 
cats are wholly different from notional cherries it only follows 
that real cats are wholly different from real cherries if the num- 
ber of admissible interpretations is exactly one. If there is more 
than one admissible interpretation of the whole language (as 
there will be if the admissible interpretations are singled out only 

A problem about reference 


by operational and theoretical constraints), then two terms 
which refer to disjoint sets in each admissible interpretation can 
have the same potential referents when the totality of all admis- 
sible interpretations is considered. From the fact that notional 
cats are as different as can be from notional cherries it does not 
follow that there are determinate disjoint sets of cats-in- 
themselves and cherries-in-themselves. 

What makes this so distressing is that operational plus theo- 
retical constraints are the natural way in which to allow the 
actual empirical context to determine the admissible interpreta- 
tion (or interpretations) of one's representational system. Such 
constraints can to some extent determine which sentences in 
one's language are true and which false; it is the slack between 
truth-conditions and reference that remains. 

Quine, as we remarked, would be willing to put up with the 
slack and simply acknowledge that reference is indeterminate. A 
young philosopher, Hartry Field, 8 has recently suggested a dif- 
ferent view. In Field's view reference is a 'physicalistic relation', 
i.e. a complex causal relation between words or mental represen- 
tations and objects or sets of objects. It is up to empirical science 
to discover what that physicalistic relation is, Field suggests. 

There is, however, a problem with this suggestion too. Sup- 
pose there is a possible naturalistic or physicalistic definition of 
reference, as Field contends. Suppose 

(1) x refers to y if and only if x bears R to y 

is true, where R is a relation definable in natural science vocab- 
ulary without using any semantical notions (i.e. without using 
'refers' or any other words which would make the definition 
immediately circular). If (1) is true and empirically verifiable, 
then (1) is a sentence which is itself true even on the theory that 
reference is fixed as far as (and only as far as) is determined by 
operational plus theoretical constraints. (1) is a sentence which 
would be part of our 'reflective equilibrium' or 'ideal limit' the- 
ory of the world. 

If reference is only determined by operational and theoretical 
constraints, however, then the reference of ( x bears R to y' is 

8 Field, R, 'Tarski's Theory of Truth', The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 69. 
Field's view is discussed in my Meaning and the Moral Sciences, 
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978. 


A problem about reference 

itself indeterminate, and so knowing that (1) is true will not help. 
Each admissible model of our object language will correspond 
to a model of our meta-language in which (1) holds; the inter- 
pretation of ( x bears R to y* will fix the interpretation of ( x refers 
to y\ But this will only be a relation in each admissible model; it 
will not serve to cut down the number of admissible models at 

This is, of course, not at all what Field intends. What Field is 
claiming is that (a) there is a determinate unique relation 
between words and things or sets of things; and (b) this relation 
is the one to be used as the reference relation in assigning a truth 
value to (1) itself. But this is not necessarily expressed by just 
saying (1), as we have just seen; and it is a puzzle how we could 
learn to express what Field wants to say. 

Putting this last puzzle aside, let us consider the view that (1), 
understood as Field wants us to understand it (as describing the 
determinate, unique relation between words and their referents), 
is true. If (1) is true, so understood, what makes it true? Given 
that there are many 'correspondences' between words and 
things, even many that satisfy our constraints, what singles out 
one particular correspondence R? Not the empirical correctness 
of (1); for that is a matter of our operational and theoretical 
constraints. Not, as we have seen, our intentions (rather R enters 
into determining what our intentions signify). It seems as if the 
fact that R is reference must be a metaphysically unexplainable 
fact, a kind of primitive, surd, metaphysical truth. 

This kind of primitive, surd, metaphysical truth, if such there 
be, must not be confused with the sort of 'metaphysically neces- 
sary' truth recently introduced by Saul Kripke. 9 

Kripke's point, which is closely related to points made above 
about the reference of natural kind terms (terms for animal, veg- 
etable and mineral species, for example), was that given that, as 
a matter of fact, 

(2) Water is H 2 

(i.e. given that (2) is true in the actual world), and given that 
(Kripke points out) speakers intend that the term 'water' shall 

9 See his Naming and Necessity, Harvard University Press, 1980. 
(Originally given as lectures in 1970.) 

A problem about reference 


refer to just those things that have the same lawful behavior and 
the same ultimate composition as various standard samples of 
actual water (i.e. speakers have such intentions even when talk- 
ing about hypothetical cases or 'possible worlds'), it follows that 
(2) must also be true in every possible world; for to describe a 
hypothetical liquid which is not H 2 but which has some simi- 
larities to water is only to describe a hypothetical liquid which 
resembles water, and not to describe a possible world in which 
water isn't H 2 0. It is 'metaphysically necessary' (true in all pos- 
sible worlds) that water is H 2 6; but this 'metaphysical necessity' 
is explained by mundane chemistry and mundane facts about 
speakers' intentions to refer. 

If there is a determinate physicalistic relation R (whether it be 
definable in the language of natural science in finitely many 
words or not) which just is reference (independently of how or 
whether we describe that relation), this fact cannot itself be the 
consequence of our intentions to refer; rather, as we have repeat- 
edly noted, it enters into determining what our very intentions 
to refer signify. Kripke's view, that 'water is H 2 0' is true in all 
possible worlds, could be right even if reference in the actual 
world is fixed only by operational and theoretical constraints; 
the view presupposes the notion of reference, it does not tell us 
whether reference is determinate or what reference is. 

To me, believing that some correspondence intrinsically just is 
reference (not as a result of our operational and theoretical con- 
straints, or our intentions, but as an ultimate metaphysical fact) 
amounts to a magical theory of reference. Reference itself 
becomes what Locke called a 'substantial form' (an entity which 
intrinsically belongs with a certain name) on such a view. Even 
if one is willing to contemplate such unexplainable metaphysical 
facts, the epistemological problems that accompany such a meta- 
physical view seem insuperable. For, assuming a world of mind- 
independent, discourse-independent entities (this is the presup- 
position of the view we are discussing), there are, as we have 
seen, many different 'correspondences' which represent possible 
or candidate reference relations (infinitely many, in fact, if there 
are infinitely many things in the universe). Even requiring that 
(1) be true under whichever notion of truth corresponds to the 
metaphysically singled-out 'real' relation of reference does not 
exclude any of these candidates, if (1) is itself empirically accept- 


A problem about reference 

able (acceptable given our operational and theoretical con- 
straints), as we have seen. But then there are infinitely many dif- 
ferent possible 'surd metaphysical truths' of the form 'R is the 
real (metaphysically singled-out) relation of reference'. If the 
holder of the view allows that it is conceivable that his view is 
not quite right, and that reference may be metaphysically singled 
out without being totally determinate (the metaphysically sin- 
gled-out R may allow for a plurality of admissible interpreta- 
tions) then it is even conceivable that the operational-p/as- 
theoretical-constraints-view is metaphysically correct after all! 
For why could it not be a surd metaphysical fact that reference 
is the relation: x refers to y in at least one admissible model M. 
Note that all these infinitely many metaphysical theories are 
compatible with the same sentences being true, the same 'theory 
of the world', and the same optimal methodology for discover- 
ing what is true! 

Two philosophical perspectives 

The problems we have been discussing naturally give rise to two 
philosophical points of view (or two philosophical tempera- 
ments, as I called them in the Introduction). It is with these 
points of view, and with their consequences for just about every 
issue in philosophy that I shall be concerned: the question of 
'Brains in a Vat' would not be of interest, except as a sort of 
logical paradox, if it were not for the sharp way in which it 
brings out the difference between these philosophical perspec- 

One of these perspectives is the perspective of metaphysical 
realism. On this perspective, the world consists of some fixed 
totality of mind-independent objects. There is exactly one true 
and complete description of 'the way the world is'. Truth 
involves some sort of correspondence relation between words or 
thought-signs and external things and sets of things. I shall call 
this perspective the externalist perspective, because its favorite 
point of view is a God's Eye point of view. 

The perspective I shall defend has no unambiguous name. It 
is a late arrival in the history of philosophy, and even today it 
keeps being confused with other points of view of a quite differ- 
ent sort. I shall refer to it as the internalist perspective, because 
it is characteristic of this view to hold that what objects does the 
world consist off is a question that it only makes sense to ask 
within a theory or description. Many 'internalist' philosophers, 
though not all, hold further that there is more than one 'true' 
theory or description of the world. 'Truth', in an internalist 
view, is some sort of (idealized) rational acceptability - some 


Two philosophical perspectives 

sort of ideal coherence of our beliefs with each other and with 
our experiences as those experiences are themselves represented 
in our belief system - and not correspondence with mind-inde- 
pendent or discourse-independent 'states of affairs'. There is no 
God's Eye point of view that we can know or usefully imagine; 
there are only the various points of view of actual persons 
reflecting various interests and purposes that their descriptions 
and theories subserve. ('Coherence theory of truth'; 'Non-real- 
ism'; 'Verificationism'; 'Pluralism'; 'Pragmatism'; are all terms 
that have been applied to the internalist perspective; but every 
one of these terms has connotations that are unacceptable 
because of their other historic applications.) 

Internalist philosophers dismiss the 'Brain in a Vat' hypothe- 
sis. For us, the 'Brain in a Vat World' is only a story, a mere 
linguistic construction, and not a possible world at all. The idea 
that this story might be true in some universe, some Parallel 
Reality, assumes a God's Eye point of view from the start, as is 
easily seen. For from whose point of view is the story being told? 
Evidently not from the point of view of any of the sentient crea- 
tures in the world. Nor from the point of view of any observer 
in another world who interacts with this world; for a 'world' by 
definition includes everything that interacts in any way with the 
things it contains. If you, for example, were the one observer 
who was not a Brain in a Vat, spying on the Brains in a Vat, then 
the world would not be one in which all sentient beings were 
Brains in a Vat. So the supposition that there could be a world 
in which all sentient beings are Brains in a Vat presupposes from 
the outset a God's Eye view of truth, or, more accurately, a No 
Eye view of truth - truth as independent of observers altogether. 

For the externalist philosopher, on the other hand, the 
hypothesis that we are all Brains in a Vat cannot be dismissed so 
simply. For the truth of a theory does not consist in its fitting the 
world as the world presents itself to some observer or observers 
(truth is not 'relational' in this sense), but in its corresponding to 
the world as it is in itself. And the problem that I posed for the 
externalist philosopher is that the very relation of correspon- 
dence on which truth and reference depend (on his view) cannot 
logically be available to him if he is a Brain in a Vat. So, if we 
are Brains in a Vat, we cannot think that we are, except in the 
bracketed sense [we are Brains in a Vat]; and this bracketed 

Two philosophical perspectives 


thought does not have reference conditions that would make it 
true. So it is not possible after all that we are Brains in a Vat. 

Suppose we assume a 'magical theory of reference'. For exam- 
ple, we might assume that some occult rays - call them 'noetic 
rays' 1 -connect words and thought-signs to their referents. 
Then there is no problem. The Brain in a Vat can think the 
words, 'I am a brain in a vat', and when he does the word 'vat' 
corresponds (with the aid of the noetic rays) to real external vats 
and the word 'in' corresponds (with the aid of the noetic rays) 
to the relation of real spatial containment. But such a view is 
obviously untenable. No present day philosopher would 
espouse such a view. It is because the modern realist wishes to 
have a correspondence theory of truth without believing in 
'noetic rays' (or, believing in Self-Identifying Objects 2 - objects 
that intrinsically correspond to one word or thought-sign rather 
than another) that the Brain in a Vat case is a puzzler for him. 

As we have seen, the problem is this: there are these objects 
out there. Here is the mind/brain, carrying on its 
thinking/computing. How do the thinker's symbols (or those of 
his mind/brain) get into a unique correspondence with objects 
and sets of objects out there? 

The reply popular among externalists today is that while 
indeed no sign necessarily corresponds to one set of things rather 
than another, contextual connections between signs and external 
things (in particular, causal connections) will enable one to 
explicate the nature of reference. But this doesn't work. For 
example, the dominant cause of my beliefs about electrons is 
probably various textbooks. But the occurrences of the word 
'electron' I produce, though having in this sense a strong connec- 
tion to textbooks, do not refer to textbooks. The objects which 
are the dominant cause of my beliefs containing a certain sign 
may not be the referents of that sign. 

The externalist will now reply that the word 'electron' is not 
connected to textbooks by a causal chain of the appropriate 
type. (But how can we have intentions which determine which 
causal chains are 'of the appropriate type' unless we are already 
able to refer f) 

1 'Noetic rays' was suggested to me by Zemach. 

2 The term 'Self Identifying Object* is from Substance and Sameness by 
David Wiggins (Blackwell, 1980). 


Two philosophical perspectives 

For an internalist like myself, the situation is quite different. 
In an internalist view also, signs do not intrinsically correspond 
to objects, independently of how those signs are employed and 
by whom. But a sign that is actually employed in a particular 
way by a particular community of users can correspond to par- 
ticular objects within the conceptual scheme of those users. 
'Objects' do not exist independently of conceptual schemes. We 
cut up the world into objects when we introduce one or another 
scheme of description. Since the objects and the signs are alike 
internal to the scheme of description, it is possible to say what 
matches what. 

Indeed, it is trivial to say what any word refers to within the 
language the word belongs to, by using the word itself. What 
does 'rabbit' refer to? Why, to rabbits, of course! What does 
'extraterrestrial' refer to? To extraterrestrials (if there are any). 
Of course the externalist agrees that the extension of 'rabbit' 
is the set of rabbits and the extension of 'extraterrestrial' is the 
set of extraterrestrials. But he does not regard such statements 
as telling us what reference is. For him finding out what refer- 
ence is, i.e. what the nature of the 'correspondence' between 
words and things is, is a pressing problem. (How pressing, we 
saw in the previous chapter.) For me there is little to say about 
what reference is within a conceptual system other than these 
tautologies. The idea that causal connection is necessary is 
refuted by the fact that 'extraterrestrial' certainly refers to extra- 
terrestrials whether we have ever causally interacted with any 
extraterrestrials or not! 

The externalist philosopher would reply, however, that we 
can refer to extraterrestrials even though we have never inter- 
acted with any (as far as we know) because we have interacted 
with terrestrials and we have experienced instances of the rela- 
tion 'not from the same planet as' and instances of the property 
'intelligent being'. And we can define an extraterrestrial as an 
intelligent being that is not from the same planet as terrestrials. 
Also, 'not from the same planet as' can be analyzed in terms of 
'not from the same place as' and 'planet' (which can be further 
analyzed). Thus the externalist gives up the requirement that we 
have some 'real' connection (e.g. causal connection) with every- 
thing we are able to refer to, and requires only that the basic 
terms refer to kinds of things (and relations) that we have some 

Two philosophical perspectives 


real connection to. Using the basic terms in complex conbina- 
tions we can then, he says, build up descriptive expressions 
which refer to kinds of things we have no real connection to, and 
that may not even exist (e.g. extraterrestrials). 

In fact, already with a simple word like 'horse' or 'rabbit' he 
might have observed that the extension includes many things we 
have not causally interacted with (e.g. future horses and rabbits, 
or horses and rabbits that never interacted with any human 
being). When we use the word 'horse' we refer not only to the 
horses we have a real connection to, but also to all other things 
of the same kind. 

At this point, however, we must observe that 'of the same 
kind' makes no sense apart from a categorial system which says 
what properties do and what properties do not count as similar- 
ities. In some ways, after all, anything is 'of the same kind' as 
anything else. This whole complicated story about how we refer 
to some things by virtue of the fact that they are connected with 
us by 'causal chains of the appropriate kind', and to yet other 
things by virtue of the fact that they are 'of the same kind' as 
things connected with us by causal chains of the appropriate 
kind, and to still other things 'by description', is not so much 
false as otiose. What makes horses with which I have not inter- 
acted 'of the same kind' as horses with which I have interacted 
is that fact that the former as well as the latter are horses. The 
metaphysical realist formulation of the problem once again 
makes it seem as if there are to begin with all these objects in 
themselves, and then I get some kind of a lassoo over a few of 
these objects (the horses with which I have a 'real' connection, 
via a 'causal chain of the appropriate kind'), and then I have the 
problem of getting my word ('horse') to cover not only the ones 
I have 'lassooed' but also the ones I can't lassoo, because they 
are too far away in space and time, or whatever. And the 'solu- 
tion' to this pseudo-problem, as I consider it to be- the meta- 
physical realist 'solution' - is to say that the word automatically 
covers not just the objects I lassooed, but also the objects which 
are of the same kind - of the same kind in themselves. But then 
the world is, after all, being claimed to contain Self-Identifying 
Objects, for this is just what it means to say that the world, and 
not thinkers, sorts things into kinds. 

In a sense, I would say, the world does consist of 'Self-Identi- 


Two philosophical perspectives 

fying Objects' - but not a sense available to an externalist. If, as 
I maintain, 'objects' themselves are as much made as discovered, 
as much products of our conceptual invention as of the 'objec- 
tive' factor in experience, the factor independent of our will, 
then of course objects intrinsically belong under certain labels; 
because those labels are the tools we used to construct a version 
of the world with such objects in the first place. But this kind of 
'Self-Identifying Object' is not mind-independent; and the exter- 
nalist wants to think of the world as consisting of objects that 
are at one and the same time mind-independent and Self-Identi- 
fying. This is what one cannot do. 

Internalism and relativism 

Internalism is not a facile relativism that says, 'Anything goes'. 
Denying that it makes sense to ask whether our concepts 'match' 
something totally uncontaminated by conceptualization is one 
thing; but to hold that every conceptual system is therefore just 
as good as every other would be something else. If anyone really 
believed that, and if they were foolish enough to pick a concep- 
tual system that told them they could fly and to act upon it by 
jumping out of a window, they would, if they were lucky enough 
to survive, see the weakness of the latter view at once. Internal- 
ism does not deny that there are experiential inputs to knowl- 
edge; knowledge is not a story with no constraints except inter- 
nal coherence; but it does deny that there are anf inputs which 
are not themselves to some extent shaped by our concepts, by 
the vocabulary we use to report and describe them, or any inputs 
which admit of only one description, independent of all concep- 
tual choices. Even our description of our own sensations, so dear 
as a starting point for knowledge to generations of epistemolo- 
gists, is heavily affected (as are the sensations themselves, for 
that matter) by a host of conceptual choices. The very inputs 
upon which our knowledge is based are conceptually contami- 
nated; but contaminated inputs are better than none. If contam- 
inated inputs are all we have, still all we have has proved to be 
quite a bit. 

What makes a statement, or a whole system of statements - a 
theory or conceptual scheme - rationally acceptable is, in large 

Two philosophical perspectives 


part, its coherence and fit; coherence of 'theoretical' or less 
experiential beliefs with one another and with more experiential 
beliefs, and also coherence of experiential beliefs with theoretical 
beliefs. Our conceptions of coherence and acceptability are, on 
the view I shall develop, deeply interwoven with our psychology. 
They depend upon our biology and our culture; they are by no 
means 'value free*. But they are our conceptions, and they are 
conceptions of something real. They define a kind of objectivity, 
objectivity for us, even if it is not the metaphysical objectivity of 
the God's Eye view. Objectivity and rationality humanly speak- 
ing are what we have; they are better than nothing. 

To reject the idea that there is a coherent 'external' perspec- 
tive, a theory which is simply true 'in itself, apart from all pos- 
sible observers, is not to identify truth with rational acceptabil- 
ity. Truth cannot simply be rational acceptability for one 
fundamental reason; truth is supposed to be a property of a 
statement that cannot be lost, whereas justification can be lost. 
The statement The earth is flat' was, very likely, rationally 
acceptable 3,000 years ago; but it is not rationally acceptable 
today. Yet it would be wrong to say that 'the earth is flat' was 
true 3,000 years ago; for that would mean that the earth has 
changed its shape. In fact, rational acceptability is both tensed 
and relative to a person. In addition, rational acceptability is a 
matter of degree; truth is sometimes spoken of as a matter of 
degree (e.g., we sometimes say, 'the earth is a sphere' is approx- 
imately true); but the 'degree' here is the accuracy of the state- 
ment, and not its degree of acceptability or justification. 

What this shows, in my opinion, is not that the externalist 
view is right after all, but that truth is an idealization of rational 
acceptability. We speak as if there were such things as epistemi- 
cally ideal conditions, and we call a statement 'true' if it would 
be justified under such conditions. 'Epistemically ideal condi- 
tions', of course, are like 'frictionless planes': we cannot really 
attain epistemically ideal conditions, or even be absolutely cer- 
tain that we have come sufficiently close to them. But frictionless 
planes cannot really be attained either, and yet talk of friction- 
less planes has 'cash value' because we can approximate them 
to a very high degree of approximation. 

Perhaps it will seem that explaining truth in terms of justifi- 


Two philosophical perspectives 

cation under ideal conditions is explaining a clear notion in 
terms of a vague one. But 'true' is not so clear when we move 
away from such stock examples as 'Snow is white.' And in any 
case, I am not trying to give a formal definition of truth, but an 
informal elucidation of the notion. 

The simile of frictionless planes aside, the two key ideas of the 
idealization theory of truth are (1) that truth is independent of 
justification here and now, but not independent of all justifica- 
tion. To claim a statement is true is to claim it could be justified. 
(2) truth is expected to be stable or 'convergent'; if both a state- 
ment and its negation could be 'justified', even if conditions were 
as ideal as one could hope to make them, there is no sense in 
thinking of the statement as having sl truth-value. 

The 'similitude' theory 

The theory that truth is correspondence is certainly the natural 
one. Before Kant it is perhaps impossible to find any philosopher 
who did not have a correspondence theory of truth. 

Michael Dummett has recently 3 drawn a distinction between 
non-realist (i.e. what I am calling 'internalist') views and reduc- 
tionist views in order to point out that reductionists can be 
metaphysical realists, i.e. subscribers to the correspondence the- 
ory of truth. Reductionism, with respect to a class of assertions 
(e.g. assertions about mental events) is the view that assertions 
in that class are 'made true' by facts which are outside of that 
class. For example, facts about behavior are what 'make true' 
assertions about mental events, according to one kind of reduc- 
tionism. For another example, the view of Bishop Berkeley that 
all there 'really is' is minds and their sensations is reductionist, 
for it holds that sentences about tables and chairs and other 
ordinary 'material objects' are actually made true by facts about 

If a view is reductionist with respect to assertions of one kind, 
but only to insist on the correspondence theory of truth for sen- 

3 Dummett' s views are set out in 'What is a theory of Meaning I, II' in 
Truth and Other Enigmas (Harvard, 1980). His forthcoming 
(eventually) William James Lectures (given at Harvard in 1976) develop 
them in much more detail. 

Two philosophical perspectives 


tences of the reducing class, then that view is metaphysical realist 
at base. A truly non-realist view is non-realist all the way down. 

The error is often made of regarding reductionist philosophers 
as non-realists, but Dummett is surely right; their disagreement 
with other philosophers is over what there really is, and not over 
the conception of truth. If we avoid this error, then the claim I 
just made, that it is impossible to find a philosopher before Kant 
who was not a metaphysical realist, at least about what he took 
to be basic or unreducible assertions, will seem much more 

The oldest form of the correspondence theory of truth, and 
one which endured for approximately 2,000 years, is one that 
ancient and medieval philosophers attributed to Aristotle. That 
Aristotle actually held it I am not sure; but it is suggested by his 
language. I shall call it the similitude theory of reference; for it 
holds that the relation between the representations in our minds 
and the external objects that they refer to is literally a similarity. 

The theory, like modern theories, employed the idea of a men- 
tal representation. This presentation, the mind's image of the 
external thing, was called sl phantasm by Aristotle. The relation 
between the phantasm and the external object by virtue of which 
the phantasm represents the external object to the mind is 
(according to Aristotle) that the phantasm shares a form with 
the external object. Since the phantasm and the external object 
are similar (share the form), the mind, in having available the 
phantasm, also has directly available the very form of the exter- 
nal object. 4 

Aristotle himself says that the phantasm does not share with 
the object such properties as redness (i.e. the redness in our 
minds is not literally the same property as the redness of the 
object), which can be perceived by one sense, but does share such 
properties as length or shape which can be perceived by more 
than one sense (which are 'common sensibles' as opposed to 'sin- 
gle sensibles'). 

In the seventeenth century the similitude theory began to be 
restricted, much as it had been by Aristotle. Thus Locke and 
Descartes held that in the case of a 'secondary' quality, such as 
a color or a texture, it would be absurd to suppose that the prop- 

4 See De Anima, Book III, Ch. 7 and 8. 


Two philosophical perspectives 

erty of the mental image is literally the same property as the 
property of the physical thing. Locke was a Corpuscularian, that 
is, an advocate of the atomic theory of matter, and like a modern 
physicist he conceived that what answers to the sensuous pre- 
sented redness of my image of a red piece of cloth is not a simple 
property of the cloth, but a very complex dispositional property 
or 'Power', namely the Power to give rise to sensations of this 
particular kind (sensations which exhibit 'subjective red', in the 
language of psychophysics). This power in turn has an explana- 
tion, which we did not know in Locke's day, in the particular 
micro-structure of the piece of cloth which leads it to selectively 
absorb and reflect light of different wave-lengths. (This sort of 
explanation was already given by Newton.) If we say that having 
such a microstructure is 'being red' in the case of a piece of cloth, 
then clearly whatever the nature of subjective red may be, the 
event in my mind (or even my brain) that takes place when I 
have a sensation of subjective red does not involve anything in 
my mind (or brain) 'being red'. The properties of a physical thing 
which make it an instance of physical red and the properties of 
a mental event which make it an instance of subjective red are 
quite different. A red piece of cloth and a red after-image are not 
literally similar. They do not share a Form. 

For those properties (shape, motion, position) which his Cor- 
puscularian philosophy led him to regard as basic and irreduci- 
ble, Locke was willing to keep the similitude theory of reference, 
however. (Actually, some Locke scholars today dispute this; but 
Locke does say that there is a 'similitude' between the idea and 
the object in the case of the primary qualities and that there is 
'no similitude' between the idea of red or warmth and the red- 
ness or warmth in the object. 5 And the reading of Locke I am 
describing was the universal one among his contemporaries and 
among eighteenth century readers as well.) 

Berkeley's tour de force 

Berkeley discovered a very unwelcome consequence of the 
similitude theory of reference: it implies that nothing exists 
except mental entities ('spirits and their ideas', i.e. minds and 

5 See An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, Ch. VIII. 

Two philosophical perspectives 


their sensations). It is generally unappreciated that the premiss 
from which Berkeley worked - the similitude theory - was not 
something he merely learned from Locke (or read into Locke) 
but was the accepted theory of reference before his time and, 
indeed, for a hundred years afterwards; but we have just 
remarked how venerable this theory actually was. 

Berkeley's argument is very simple. The usual philosophical 
argument against the similitude theory in the case of secondary 
qualities is correct (the argument from the relativity of percep- 
tion), but it goes just as well in the case of primary qualities. The 
length, shape, motion of an object are all perceived differently 
by different perceivers and by the same perceiver on different 
occasions. To ask whether a table is the same length as my image 
of it or the same length as your image of it is to ask an absurd 
question. If the table is three feet long, and I have a good clear 
view of it, do I have a three foot long mental image? To ask the 
question is to see its senselessness. Mental images do not have a 
physical length. They cannot be compared with the standard 
measuring rod in Paris. Physical length and subjective length 
must be as different as physical redness and subjective redness. 

To state Berkeley's conclusion another way, Nothing can be 
similar to a sensation or image except another sensation or 
image. Given this, and given the (still unquestioned) assumption 
that the mechanism of reference is similitude between our 'ideas' 
(i.e. our images or 'phantasms') and what they represent, it at 
once follows that no 'idea' (mental image) can represent or refer 
to anything but another image or sensation. Only phenomenal 
objects can be thought about, conceived, referred to. And if you 
can't think of something, you can't think it exists. Unless we 
treat talk of material objects as highly derived talk about regu- 
larities in our sensations, it is totally unintelligible. 

The tendency, in his own time and later, to see Berkeley as 
almost insanely perverse, almost scandalous, if brilliant, was due 
to the unacceptability of his conclusion that matter does not 
really exist (except as a construction from sensations), and not 
to anything peculiar about his premisses. But the fact that one 
could derive such an unacceptable conclusion from the simili- 
tude theory produced a crisis in philosophy. Philosophers who 
did not wish to follow Berkeley in Subjective Idealism had to 
come up with a different account of reference. 


Two philosophical perspectives 
Kant's account of knowledge and truth 

I want to say that, although Kant never quite says that this is 
what he is doing, Kant is best read as proposing for the first time 
what I have called the 'internalist' or 'internal realist' view of 

To begin with, it is clear that Kant regarded Berkeley's Subjec- 
tive Idealism as quite unacceptable (this much he explicitly says), 
and also regarded causal realism - the view that we directly per- 
ceive only sensations, and infer material objects via some kind of 
problematical inference, as equally unacceptable. A view on 
which it is only a very dubious hypothesis that there is a table in 
front of me as I write these pages is a 'scandal', Kant says. 

Secondly, I take it that Kant saw clearly how Berkeley's argu- 
ment works: he saw that it depends on the similitude theory of 
reference, and that rejecting Berkeley's argument requires reject- 
ing that theory. Here I am attributing a view to Kant that Kant 
does not express in these words (indeed, talk of 'reference' as the 
relation between mental signs and what they stand for is very 
recent, although the problem of the relation between mental 
signs and what they stand for is very ancient). But we shall see 
that what Kant did say has precisely the effect of giving up the 
similitude theory of reference. 

Let me suggest a way of reading Kant that may be helpful, 
although it is only a first approximation to a right interpretation. 
Think of Kant as accepting Berkeley's point that the argument 
from the relativity of perception applies as much to the so-called 
'primary' qualities as to the secondary ones, but making a differ- 
ent response than Berkeley made. Berkeley's response, recall, 
was to scrap the distinction between primary qualities and sec- 
ondary qualities and fall back on just what Locke would have 
called 'simple' qualities of sensation as the basic entities we can 
refer to. Locke's own treatment of secondary qualities, recall, 
was to say that (as properties of the physical object) we can only 
conceive of them as Powers, as properties - nature unspecified - 
which enable the object to affect us in a certain way. Saying that 
something is red, or warm, or furry, is saying that it is so-and-so 
in relation to us, not how it is from a God's Eye point of view. 

I suggest that (as a first approximation) the way to read Kant 
is as saying that what Locke said about secondary qualities is 

Two philosophical perspectives 


true of all qualities - the simple ones, the primary ones, the sec- 
ondary ones alike (indeed, there is little point of distinguishing 
them). 6 

If all properties are secondary, what follows? It follows that 
everything we say about an object is of the form: it is such as to 
affect us in such-and-such a way. Nothing at all we say about 
any object describes the object as it is 'in itself, independently of 
its effect on us, on beings with our rational natures and our 
biological constitutions. It also follows that we cannot assume 
any similarity ('similitude', in Locke's English) between our idea 
of an object and whatever mind-independent reality may be ulti- 
mately responsible for our experience of that object. Our ideas 
of objects are not copies of mind-independent things. 

This is very much the way Kant describes the situation. He 
does not doubt that there is some mind-independent reality; for 
him this is virtually a postulate of reason. He refers to the ele- 
ments of this mind-independent reality in various terms: thing- 
in-itself (Ding an sich); the noumenal objects or noumena; col- 
lectively, the noumenal world. But we can form no real concep- 
tion of these noumenal things; even the notion of a noumenal 
world is a kind of limit of thought {Grenz-Begriff) rather than a 
clear concept. Today the notion of a noumenal world is per- 
ceived to be an unnecessary metaphysical element in Kant's 
thought. (But perhaps Kant is right: perhaps we can't help think- 

Kant gives a summary of his own view in precisely this way in the 

Long before Locke's time, but assuredly since him, it has been 
generally assumed and granted without detriment to the actual 
existence of external things that many of their predicates may be 
said to belong, not to the things in themselves, but to their 
appearances, and to have no proper existence outside our repre- 
sentation. Heat, color, and taste, for instance, are of this kind. 
Now, if I go farther and, for weighty reasons, rank as mere 
appearances the remaining qualities of bodies also, which are 
called primary - such as extension, place, and, in general, space, 
with all that which belongs to it (impenetrability or materiality, 
shape, etc.) - no one in the least can adduce the reason of its 
being inadmissible. As little as the man who admits colors not to 
be properties of the object in itself, but only as modifications of 
the sense of sight, should on that account be called an idealist, so 
little can my thesis be named idealistic merely because I find that 
more, nay, all the properties which constitute the intuition of a 
body belong merely to its appearance. 


Two philosophical perspectives 

ing that there is somehow a mind- independent 'ground' for our 
experience even if attempts to talk about it lead at once to non- 

At the same time, talk of ordinary 'empirical' objects is not 
talk of things-in-themselves but only talk of things-for-us. 

The really subtle point is that Kant regards all of these points 
as applying to sensations ('objects of internal sense') as well as 
to external objects. This may seem strange: what is the problem 
about whether or not an idea corresponds to a sensation? But 
Kant is on to something profound. 

Suppose I have a sensation £. Suppose I describe E; say, by 
asserting 'E is a sensation of red, 9 If 'red' just means like this, 
then the whole assertion just means *£ is like this 9 (attending to 
£), i.e. E is like E - and no judgment has really been made. As 
Wittgenstein puts it, one is reduced to virtually a grunt. On the 
other hand, if 'red' is a true classifier, if I am claiming that this 
sensation E belongs in the same class as sensations I call 'red' at 
other times, then my judgment goes beyond what is immediately 
given, beyond the 'bare thatness', and involves an implicit refer- 
ence to other sensations, which I am, not having at the present 
instant, and to time (which, according to Kant, is not something 
noumenal but rather a form in which we arrange the 'things-for- 
us'). 7 Whether the sensations I have at different times that I clas- 
sify as sensations of red are all 'really' (noumenally) similar is a 
question that makes no sense; if they appear to be similar (e.g. if 
I remember the previous sensations as similar to this one, and 
anticipate that future sensations which I will so classify will in 
their turn seem to be similar to this one, as this one is then remem- 
bered) then they are similar-for-me. 

Kant says again and again, and in different words, that the 
objects of inner sense are'wof transcendentally real (noumenal) 
that they are 'transcendentally ideal' (things-for-us), and that 
they are no more and no less directly knowable than so-called 

Here I am being deliberately anachronistic and describing Kant's view by 
means of an example taken from Wittgenstein's Phibsophical 
Investigations. But Wittgenstein's example has deeply Kantian roots: 
Hegel, writing shortly after Kant, and aware of Kant's doctrine, made 
precisely the point that any judgment, even of sense impression, has to 
go beyond what is 'given' to be a judgment at all. 

Two philosophical perspectives 


'external' objects. The sensations I call 'red' can no more be 
directly compared with noumenal objects to see if they have the 
same noumenal property than the objects I call 'pieces of gold' 
can be directly compared with noumenal objects to see if they 
have the same noumenal property. 

The reason that 'All properties are secondary' is only a first 
approximation to Kant's view is this: 'All properties are secon- 
dary' (i.e. all properties are Powers) suggests that saying of a 
chair that it is made of pine, or whatever, is attributing a Power 
(the disposition to appear to be made of pine to us) to a nou- 
menal object; saying of the chair that it is brown is attributing a 
different Power to that same noumenal object; and so on. On 
such a view there would be one noumenal object corresponding 
to each object in what Kant calls 'the representation', i.e. one 
noumenal object corresponding to each thing-for-us. But Kant 
explicitly denies this. This is the point at which he all but says 
that he is giving up the correspondence theory of truth. 

Kant does not, indeed, say he is giving up the correspondence 
theory of truth. On the contrary, he says that truth is the 'cor- 
respondence of a judgment to its object'. But this is what Kant 
called a 'nominal definition of truth'. On my view, identifying 
this with what the metaphysical realist means by 'the correspon- 
dence theory of truth' would be a grave error. To say whether 
Kant held what a metaphysical realist means by 'the correspon- 
dence theory of truth' we have to see whether he had a realist 
conception of what he called 'the object' of an empirical judg- 

On Kant's view, any judgment about external or internal 
objects (physical things or mental entities) says that the nou- 
menal world as a whole is such that this is the description that a 
rational being (one with our rational nature) given the informa- 
tion available to a being with our sense organs (a being with our 
sensible nature) would construct. In that sense, the judgment 
ascribes a Power. But the Power is ascribed to the whole nou- 
menal world; you must not think that because there are chairs 
and horses and sensations in our representation, that there are 
correspondingly noumenal chairs and noumenal horses and nou- 
menal sensations. There is not even a one-to-one correspondence 
between things-for-us and things in themselves. Kant not only 
gives up any notion of similitude between our ideas and the 


Two philosophical perspectives 

things in themselves; he even gives up any notion of an abstract 
isomorphism. And this means that there is no correspondence 
theory of truth in his philosophy. 

What then is a true judgment? Kant does believe that we have 
objective knowledge: we know laws of mathematics, laws of 
geometry, laws of physics, and many statements about individ- 
ual objects - empirical objects, things for us. The use of the term 
'knowledge' and the use of the term 'objective' amount to the 
assertion that there still is a notion of truth. But what is truth if 
it is not correspondence to the way things are in themselves? 

As I have said, the only answer that one can extract from 
Kant's writing is this: a piece of knowledge (i.e. a 'true state- 
ment') is a statement that a rational being would accept on suf- 
ficient experience of the kind that it is actually possible for 
beings with our nature to have. 'Truth' in any other sense is 
inaccessible to us and inconceivable by us. Truth is ultimate 
goodness of fit. 

The empiricist alternative 

So far as our argument has gone, it is still possible for a philos- 
opher to avoid giving up the correspondence theory of truth 
and the similitude theory of reference by restricting them to sen- 
sations and images. And many philosophers continued to believe 
even after Kant that similitude is the mechanism by which we 
are able to have ideas that refer to our own (and, although this 
was more controversial, other people's) sensations, and that this 
is the primary case of reference from an epistemological point of 

To see why this doesn't work, recall that the heart of Berke- 
ley's argument was the contention that nothing can resemble an 
'idea' (sensation or image) except another 'idea', i.e. there can be 
no resemblance between the mental and the physical. Our ideas 
can resemble other mental entities, but they cannot resemble 
'matter', according to Berkeley. 

At this point, we must stop and realize that this is in an impor- 
tant way false. In fact, everything is similar to everything else in 
infinitely many respects. For example, my sensation of a type- 
writer at this instant and the quarter in my pocket are both sim- 
ilar in the respect that some of their properties (the sensation's 

Two philosophical perspectives 


occurring right now and the quarter's being in my pocket right 
now) are effects of my past actions; if I had not sat down to type, 
I would not be having the sensation; and the quarter would/ not 
be in my pocket if I had not put it there. Both the sensation and 
the quarter exist in the twentieth century. Both the sensation and 
the quarter have been described in English. And so on and so on. 
The number of similarities one can find between any two objects 
is limited only by ingenuity and time. 

In a particular context, 'similarity' may have a more restricted 
meaning, of course. But to just ask 'are A and B similar?' when 
we have not specified, explicitly or implicity, what kind of simi- 
larity is at issue, is to ask an empty question. 

From this simple fact it already follows that the idea that 
similitude is the private mechanism of reference must lead to an 
infinite regress. Suppose, to use an example due to Wittgenstein, 
someone is trying to invent a 'private language', a language 
which refers to his own sensations as they are directly given to 
him. He focusses his attention on a sensation X and introduces 
a sign E which he intends to apply to exactly those entities which 
are qualitatively identical with X. In effect, he intends that E 
should apply to all and only those entities which are similar to 

If this is all he intends - if he does not specify the respect in 
which something has to be similar to X to fall under the classi- 
fication E-then his intention is empty, as we just saw. For 
everything is similar to X in some respect. 

If, on the other hand, he specifies the respect; if he thinks the 
thought that a sensation is E if and only if it is similar to X in 
respect R; then, since he is able to think this thought, he is 
already able to refer to the sensations for which he is trying to 
introduce a term E, and to the relevant property of those sensa- 
tions! But how did he get to be able to do this? (If we answer, 
'By focussing his attention on two other sensations, Z, W, and 
thinking the thought that two sensations are similar in respect R 
if and only if they are similar to Z, W\ then we are involved in 
a regress to infinity.) 

The difficulty with the similitude theory of reference is the 
same as the difficulty with the 'causal chain of the appropriate 
kind' theory that we mentioned earlier. If I just say, The word 
"horse" refers to objects which have the property whose occur- 


Two philosophical perspectives 

rence causes me on certain occasions to produce the utterance 
"there is a horse in front of me" ', then one difficulty is that there 
are too many such properties. For example, let H-A (for 'Horse 
Appearance') be that property of total perceptual situations 
which elicits the response 'there is a horse in front of me' from a 
competent normal speaker of English. Then the property H-A is 
present when I say 'there is a horse in front of me' (even when I 
am experiencing an illusion), but 'horse' does not refer to situa- 
tions with that property, but rather to certain animals. The pres- 
ence of an animal with the property of belonging to a particular 
natural kind and the presence of a perceptual situation with the 
property H-A are both connected to my utterance There is a 
horse in front of me' by causal chains. In fact, the occurrence of 
horses in the Stone Age is connected with my utterance 'There is 
a horse in front of me' by a causal chain. Just as there are too 
many similarities for reference to be merely a matter of similari- 
ties, so there are too many causal chains for reference to be 
merely a matter of causal chains. 

On the other hand, if I say 'the word "horse" refers to objects 
which have a property which is connected with my production 
of the utterance "There is a horse in front of me" on certain 
occasions by a causal chain of the appropriate type', then I have 
the problem that, if I am able to specify what is the appropriate 
type of causal chain, I must already be able to refer to the kinds 
of things and properties that make up that kind of causal chain. 
But how did I get to be able to do this? 

The conclusion is not that there are no terms which have the 
logic ascribed by the similitude theory, any more than the con- 
clusion is that there are no terms which refer to things which are 
connected to us by particular kinds of causal chains. The conclu- 
sion is simply that neither similitude nor causal connection can 
be the only, or the fundamental, mechanism of reference. 

Wittgenstein on 'following a rule' 

Consider the example I mentioned in passing, of the man who 
attempts to specify the respect R (the respect in which sensations 
must be similar to X if they are to be correctly classified as E) by 
saying or thinking that two things are similar in the respect R 
just in case they are similar in just the way Z, W are similar. This 

Two philosophical perspectives 


fails, of course, because any two things Z, W are themselves sim- 
ilar in more than one way (in fact, in infinitely many ways). 
Trying to specifiy a similarity relation by giving finitely many 
examples is like trying to specify a function on the natural num- 
bers by giving its first 1,000 (or 1,000,000) values: there are 
always infinitely many functions which agree with any given 
table on any finite set of values, but which diverge on values not 
listed in the table. 

This is connected with another point that Wittgenstein makes 
in Philosophical Investigations and that was mentioned at the 
end of Chapter 1. Whatever introspectible signs or 'presenta- 
tions' I may be able to call up in connection with a concept can- 
not specify or constitute the content of the concept. Wittgenstein 
makes this point in a famous section which concerns 'following 
a rule' - say, the rule 'add one'. Even if two species in two pos- 
sible worlds (I state the argument in most un-Wittgensteinian 
terminology!) have the same mental signs in connection with the 
verbal formula 'add one', it is still possible that their practice 
might diverge; and it is the practice that fixes the interpretation: 
signs do not interpret themselves, as we saw. Even if someone 
pictures the relation 'A is the successor of B f (i.e. A =B + 1) just 
as we do and has agreed with us on some large finite set of cases 
(e.g. that 2 is the successor of 1, 3 is the successor of 2, . . ., 
999,978 is the successor of 999,977), still he may have a diver- 
gent interpretation of 'successor' which will only reveal itself in 
some future cases. (Even if he agrees with us in his 'theory' - i.e. 
what he says about 'successor of; he may have a divergent inter- 
pretation of the whole theory, as the Skolem-Lowenheim 
Theorem shows.) 

This has immediate relevance to philosophy of mathematics, 
as well as to philosophy of language. First of all, there is the 
question of finitism: human practice, actual and potential, 
extends only finitely far. Even if we say we can, we cannot 'go 
on counting forever'. If there are possible divergent extensions 
of our practice, then there are possible divergent interpretations 
of even the natural number sequence - our practice, or our men- 
tal representations, etc., do not single out a unique 'standard 
model' of the natural number sequence. We are tempted to think 
they do because we easily shift from 'we could go on counting' 
to 'an ideal machine could go on counting' (or, 'an ideal mind 


Two philosophical perspectives 

could go on counting'); but talk of ideal machines (or minds) is 
very different from talk of actual machines and persons. Talk of 
what an ideal machine could do is talk within mathematics, it 
cannot fix the interpretation of mathematics. 

In the same way, Wittgenstein holds that talk of 'similarity' 
and 'the same sensation' or 'the same experience' is talk within 
psychological theory; it cannot fix the interpretation of psycho- 
logical theory. That, the interpretation of psychological theory 
and terminology, is fixed by our actual practice, our actual stan- 
dards of correctness and incorrectness. 

In Ways of Worldtnaking 8 Nelson Goodman makes a closely 
related point: it is futile to try to have a notion of what the per- 
ceptual facts 'really are' independently of how we conceptualize 
them, of the descriptions that we give of them and that seem 
right to us. Thus, after discussing a finding by the psychologist 
Kolers that a disproportionate number of engineers and physi- 
cians are unable to see apparent motion at all, that is 'motion' 
produced by lights which successively flash at different positions, 
Goodman comments (p. 92): 

Yet if an observer reports that he sees two distinct flashes, 
even at distances and intervals so short that most 
observers see one moving spot, perhaps he means that he 
sees the two as we might say we see a swarm of molecules 
when we look at a chair, or as we do when we say we 
see a round table top even when we look at it from 
an oblique angle. Since an observer can become adept at 
distinguishing apparent from real motion, he may take 
the appearance of motion as a sign that there are two 
flashes, as we take the oval appearance of the table top as 
a sign that it is round; and in both cases the signs may 
be or become so transparent that we look through them 
to physical events and objects. When the observer visually 
determines that what is before him is what we agree is 
before him, we can hardly charge him with an error 
in visual perception. Shall we say, rather, that he mis- 
understands the instruction, which is presumably just 
to tell what he sees? Then how, without prejudicing 
the outcome, can we so reframe the instruction as to 

8 Published by Hackett, 1978. 

Two philosophical perspectives 


prevent such a 'misunderstanding'? Asking him to make 
no use of prior experience and to avoid all concept- 
ualization will/obviously leave him speechless; for to 
talk at all he must use words. 

Grasp of 'Forms' and empirical association 

A Platonist or Neo-Platonist of an antique vintage would have 
dealt with this issue in a much simpler way. Such a philosopher 
would have said that when we attend to a particular sensation 
we also perceive a Universal or a Form, i.e. the mind has the 
ability to grasp properties in themselves, and not just to attend 
to instances of those properties. Such a philosopher would say it 
is the Nominalism of Wittgenstein and Goodman, their refusal 
to have any truck with Forms and with the direct grasp of 
Forms, that makes it seem to them that there is any problem 
with the similitude theory. 

While just positing a mysterious power of 'grasping Forms' is 
hardly a solution, it might seem that an analogue of this power 
is available to us. Properties of things do enter into causal expla- 
nations; when I have a sensation and it elicits the response 'this 
is a sensation of red', my response is partly caused by the fact 
that the sensation had a property. True, some philosophers are 
so nominalistic that they would deny the existence of such enti- 
ties as 'properties' altogether; but science itself does not hesitate 
to talk freely of properties. Can we not say that, when Wittgen- 
stein's privateer (the man who wanted to invent a private lan- 
guage) attended to X and said ( E' then what caused the response 
( E* was a causal interaction involving a certain property, and 
that property (whatever it was) is the relevant 'similarity' that 
other sensations must have to X to be correctly classified as E? 

The observation that talk of 'properties' is perfectly scientifi- 
cally legitimate is correct; but this does not help rehabilitate Pla- 
tonism. We interact with properties only by interacting with 
their instances; and these instances always are instances oimany 
properties at the same time. There is no such thing as just inter- 
acting with a property 'in itself. Talk of the properties causally 
associated with a sensation cannot do the work that the notion 
of the (unique) Form of the sensation did in Platonistic philoso- 


Two philosophical perspectives 

To spell this out: when I have a sensation of blue, I have a 
sensation of blue, and I also have a sensation with the complex 
property of being such as to be classed by me at that instance 
under that particular verbal label. Merely attending to this sen- 
sation does not constitute 'grasping' one of these properties. To 
pick out the property associated in just one of these ways with 
my sensation or with the verbal label is our old friend, the prob- 
lem of the Causal Chain of the Appropriate Type again. 

To see this, observe, first of all, that when my total perceptual 
experience elicits the response 'I am having the sensation of 
blue', I am not always right. I myself have had the experience of 
referring to 'the man in the blue sweater' two or three times 
before someone pointed out that the sweater was green, I don't 
mean the sweater looked blue; I realized that I had been misde- 
scribing the sweater the instant the other person spoke. (I don't 
often have occasion to say 'I am having the sensation of blue', 
but if I did, then in such a case I would probably have said it two 
or three times until someone - wondering, perhaps, why I would 
have the sensation of blue when I was looking at something that 
was obviously green - queried me, whereupon I would have 
taken back my previous phenomenal report.) This already shows 
that the property of eliciting the report 'I am having the sensa- 
tion of blue', or whatever, is not the same property as the prop- 
erty of being a sensation of blue, or a sensation of whatever the 
relevant quality might be. 

Philosophers often refer to such a case as a 'slip of the tongue'. 
This seems to me to be an unfortunate terminology. The word 
'green' might have been on my lips, and I might have found 
myself, frustratingly, saying 'blue'. That would have been a slip 
of the tongue. But in the case I described I didn't even notice I 
was misdescribing until someone questioned my report (and 
might never have noticed otherwise). 

Another explanation which is suggested is that when I said 
'blue' I meant green. By now it should be clear that when we say 
things we don't go around 'meaning' things in the sense of hold- 
ing meanings in mind. To say I 'meant' green is just to say that 
I instantly accepted the correction (and felt funny when I realized 
the way I had been speaking). This is just to repeat what hap- 
pened, not to explain it. 

Whatever the explanation may be (perhaps some slip-up in the 

Two philosophical perspectives 


verbal processing unit of my brain), the point is that, just as the 
property A-H described a few pages back will elicit the report 
'There is a horse in front of me' even on occasions when no horse 
is present in the environment, so there is a complex property of 
my total mind-set which will elicit 'I am having a sensation of 
blue', when I am not having the sensation of blue (or, anyway, 
would deny that I was if I were queried). No mechanism of 
empirical association is perfect. If we decide to stipulate that I 
am having a sensation of blue whenever I am having a sensation 
which elicits that report (or which elicits that report and is such 
that the report does not seem 'wrong' to me on second thought), 
then on folk psychological theory, and perhaps on scientific psy- 
chological theory as well, there could be occasions when it will 
be true that I am having a sensation of blue by this criterion 
although, for one of a variety of reasons, the quality of the sen- 
sation is not blue. Moreover, as Wittgenstein puts it, on such a 
criterion, whatever seems right to me is going to be right - i.e. 
the distinction between making a report of my sensation that 
really is correct and making a report that seems to me to be 
correct will have been abandoned. Perhaps we should abandon 
or at least qualify it; perhaps, as Goodman seems to be suggest- 
ing, the question of whether one is 'really' having the kind of 
sensation one thinks one is makes no sense, apart from special 
cases, such as the case in which one would take the report back 
if queried; but to abandon this distinction is not a possible move 
for a metaphysical realist, for the sharp distinction between what 
really is the case and what one judges to be the case is precisely 
what constitutes metaphysical realism. 

Could one always be wrong about the quality of one's past 

Another way to bring out what is involved is to consider the 
question: 'Could one always be wrong about one's past sensa- 
tions?' On the similitude theory, the answer is clearly 'yes'. For 
according to that theory, my previous sensations either are or 
aren't similar to the sensations I now describe by the various 
verbal labels 'sensation of red', 'pain', etc., and whether they are 
or aren't is a totally different question from whether I then class- 
ified them under those same verbal labels. Perhaps the world is 


Two philosophical perspectives 

such that what we call a 'sensation of red' at an even numbered 
minute from the beginning of the Christian Era is actually simi- 
lar in quality to what we call a 'sensation of green' at an odd- 
numbered minute, but our memory always deceives us in such a 
way that we never notice. Then the sensation I classified under 
the verbal label 'sensation of red' one minute ago would not be 
similar to the sensation I now classify under that same label. 

There is something very odd about this alleged possibility, 
however. For one thing, the sense in which 'I would never notice' 
is very strong: if I treat my 'sensations of red' at different times 
as reliable signs of the various correlated physical occurrences 
(such as fire, the signal to stop, etc.) then I will be successful in 
all my actions. The 'wrong' similarity class (the class that lumps 
together the sensations I call sensations of red, in spite of the fact 
that they are not 'really' all of the same 'quality') would be the 
one that I had better use in connection with my problem-solving 
activities. But then is it really the wrong similarity class? 

If we don't suppose that the notion of similarity is self- 
interpreting, then this case could be redescribed as a case in 
which the relation called 'similarity' by the external observer 
who is telling us about the case simply differs from the relation 
called 'similarity' by us. If we take this view, then the hypothesis 
that we are 'really' wrong about our past sensations collapses: 
from an internalist point of view there is no intelligible notion of 
sensations at different times being 'similar' apart from our stan- 
dards of rational acceptability. 

The correspondence theory of truth again 

By now the reader may be convinced that the similitude theory 
of reference is thoroughly dead. But why should we conclude 
that the correspondence theory of truth must be given up? Even 
if the notion of a 'similarity' between our concepts and what 
they refer to doesn't work, couldn't there be some kind of an 
abstract isomorphism, or, if not literally an isomorphism, some 
kind of abstract mapping of concepts onto things in the (mind- 
independent) world? Couldn't truth be defined in terms of such 
an isomorphism or mapping? 

The trouble with this suggestion is not that correspondences 
between words or concepts and other entities don't exist, but 

Two philosophical perspectives 


that too many correspondences exist. To pick out just one cor- 
respondence between words or mental signs and mind- 
independent things we would have already to have referential 
access to the mind-independent things. You can't single out a 
correspondence between two things by just squeezing one of 
them hard (or doing anything else to just one of them); you can- 
not single out a correspondence between our concepts and the 
supposed noumenal objects without access to the noumenal 

One way to see this is the following. Sometimes incompatible 
theories can actually be intertranslatable. For example, if New- 
tonian physics were true, then every single physical event could 
be described in two ways: in terms of particles acting at a dis- 
tance, across empty space (which is how Newton described grav- 
itation as acting), or in terms of particles acting on fields which 
act on other fields (or other parts of the same field), which finally 
act 'locally' on other particles. For example, the Maxwell equa- 
tions, which describe the behavior of the electro-magnetic field, 
are mathematically equivalent to a theory in which there are 
only action-at-a-distance forces between particles, attracting and 
repelling according to the inverse square law, travelling not 
instantaneously but rather at the speed of light ('retarded poten- 
tials'). The Maxwell field theory and the retarded potential the- 
ory are incompatible from a metaphysical point of view, since 
either there are or there aren't causal agencies (the 'fields') which 
mediate the action of separated particles on each other (a realist 
would say). But the two theories are mathematically intertrans- 
latable. So if there is a 'correspondence' to the noumenal things 
which makes one of them true, then one can define another cor- 
respondence which makes the other theory true. If all it takes to 
make a theory true is abstract correspondence (never mind 
which), then incompatible theories can be true. 

To an internalist this is not objectionable: why should there 
not sometimes be equally coherent but incompatible conceptual 
schemes which fit our experiential beliefs equally well? If truth 
is not (unique) correspondence then the possibility of a certain 
pluralism i^ opened up. But the motive of the metaphysical real- 
ist is to save the notion of the God's Eye Point of View, i.e. the 
One True Theory. 

Not only may there be correspondence between objects and 


Two philosophical perspectives 

(what we take to be) incompatible theories (i.e. the same objects 
can be what logicians call a 'model' for incompatible theories), 
but even if we fix the theory and fix the objects there are (if the 
number of objects is infinite) infinitely many different ways in 
which the same objects can be used to make a model for a given 
theory. This simply states in mathematical language the intuitive 
fact that to single out a correspondence between two domains 
one needs some independent access to both domains. 

What we have is the demise of a theory that lasted for over 
two thousand years. That it persisted so long and in so many 
forms in spite of the internal contradictions and obscurities 
which were present from the beginning testifies to the natural- 
ness and the strength of the desire for a God's Eye View. Kant, 
who first taught us that this desire is unfulfillable, thought that it 
was nonetheless built into our rational nature itself (he suggested 
sublimating this 'totalizing' impulse in the project of trying to 
realize 'the highest good in the world' by reconciling the moral 
and empirical orders in a perfected system of social institutions 
and individual relationships). The continued presence of this 
natural but unfulfillable impulse is, perhaps, a deep cause of the 
false monisms and false dualisms which proliferate in our cul- 
ture; be this as it may, we are left without the God's Eye View. 

Mind and body 

Parallelism, interactionism, identity 

In the seventeenth century the great philosophers Descartes, Spi- 
noza, and Leibniz all realized that there was a serious problem 
about the relation of mind to material body. To some extent, the 
relation was already a problem for Plato, of course, and for all 
of the philosophers that came after; but it became much more of 
a problem with the rise of modern physics. In the seventeenth 
century, people became aware that the physical world is strik- 
ingly causally closed. The way in which it is causally closed is 
best expressed in terms of Newtonian physics: no body moves 
except as the result of the action of some force. Forces can be 
completely described by numbers: three numbers suffice to 
determine the direction, and one number suffices to describe the 
magnitude of any force. The acceleration produced by a force 
has exactly the same direction as the force, and the magnitude of 
the acceleration can be deduced from the mass of the body and 
the magnitude of the force according to Newton's First Law, 
F = ma. When more than one force acts on a body, the resultant 
force can be computed by the parallelogram law. 

It is important to recognize how very different such a physics, 
stressing number and precise algorithms for computation as it 
does, is from the essentially qualitative thinking of the middle 
ages. In medieval thought almost anything could exert an 'influ- 
ence' on anything else. (Our word 'influenza' is a survival of this 
medieval way of thinking. Evil spirits were thought to exert an 
influence - questa influenza, in Italian - on the air which in turn 


Mind and body 

influenced the sufferers of the illness.) In such a way of thinking, 
it is not so surprising that mind can 'influence' body. 

In the time of the philosophers I mentioned, the mathematical 
way of thinking was beginning to appear and to push aside this 
older way of thinking. The new way of thinking did not fully 
develop until Newton, but in special cases Descartes already had 
the parallelogram of forces, and in still more primitive cases 
Leonardo da Vinci already had it. These thinkers saw that phys- 
ics could be done in something like the way it is done now. They 
saw that what physics deals with is force and motion, and they 
rejected the qualitative style of explanation. Rather, they con- 
ceived that the mechanical world had a logic of its own, had a 
'program', as we would say, and that it followed that program 
unless something disturbed it. 

It seemed to these thinkers that mental events could do one of 
two things. (1) They could parallel physical events, e.g. events in 
the brain. The model is a pair of synchronized clocks: the body 
is a clock which has been wound up and which runs its happy or 
unhappy way until death, and likewise the entire physical world 
runs its happy or unhappy way from creation to the Last Judg- 
ment (or to gravitational collapse, in a modern version). And the 
mental events run their happy or unhappy way, and somehow, 
perhaps by divine providence, it has been arranged so that brain 
event B will always occur just when sensation S is occurring. (2) 
They could interact with physical events. The mental events 
might actually be causing brain events, and vice versa. 

Descartes' rather notorious form of the interactionist view, the 
suggestion that the mind can influence matter when the matter 
is very, very ethereal (and that, in fact, it in some way pushes the 
matter in the pineal gland), was less the crazy speculation that it 
might seem to be, and more a hangover from a set of medieval 
doctrines. 1 In the earlier way of thinking, the mind was thought 
of as acting on the 'spirit' which in turn acted on 'matter', and 
spirit was not thought of as totally immaterial. 'Spirit' was just 
the in-between sort of stuff that the medieval philosophers' ten- 
dency to introduce in-betweens between any two adjacent terms 
in the series of kinds of being naturally led them to postulate. It 

1 See The Discarded Image, by C S. Lewis, especially Chapter VII, sec. F, 
for a description of the medieval view (Cambridge, 1964). 

Mind and body 


was like a gas with just a little bit of push. As soon as 'spirit' is 
dropped out, and the mind is really thought of as totally imma- 
terial, then the push of the mind on even very ethereal matter in 
the pineal gland appears very strange. One can't quite visualize 

The most naive version of the interactionist view conceives of 
the mind as a sort of ghost, capable of inhabiting different bodies 
(but without change in the way it thinks, feels, remembers, and 
exhibits personality, judging from the spate of popular books 
about reincarnation and 'remembering previous lives') or even 
capable of existing without a body (and continuing to think, feel, 
remember, and exhibit personality). This version, which 
amounts to little more than superstition, is vulnerable to the 
objection that there is enormous evidence (some of which was 
already known in the seventeenth century) that the functions of 
thought, feeling, and memory involve the brain in an essential 
way. Indeed, on such a version it is not clear why we should 
have complicated brains at all. If all that is needed is a 'steering 
wheel', that could be a lot smaller than the human brain. 

To avoid such scientific objections, sophisticated interaction- 
ists such as Descartes maintained that the mind and the brain are 
an essential unity. In some way it is the mind-brain unity that 
thinks, feels, remembers, and exhibits personality. This means 
that what we ordinarily call the mind is not the mind at all, but 
the mind-brain unity. What this doctrine means, what it means 
to say that something can consist of two substances as different 
as mind and matter are supposed to be and still be an essential 
unity, is, however, very obscure. 

The parallelist alternative is also very strange. What makes 
the mental event accompany the brain event? One daring 
seventeenth-century philosopher suggested that mental events 
might actually be identical with brain events and other physical 
events, and that was Spinoza. The suggestion in a contemporary 
form is that the event of my being in pain on a particular occa- 
sion might be the same event as the event of my brain being in 
some state B on that occasion. (I will also express this view by 
saying that, on such a view, the properties of having that partic- 
ular sort of pain and being in brain state B are identical. I prefer 
to talk in this way because I think we have more of a logical 
theory of properties at the present time than we do of events, but 


Mind and body 

I think the idea can be couched in either way. The idea, in this 
terminology, is that the property of the person, that the person 
is experiencing sensation Q, could be the same property as the 
property of being in brain state B.) In this form the suggestion 
was put forward by Diderot, for example, in the eighteenth cen- 
tury, and became 'mainstream' in the 1940s and 1950s. Materi- 
alism and the identity theory began to be taken seriously for the 
first time, and the suggestion began to be advanced that some- 
thing like Spinoza's view (or Spinoza's view minus its elaborate 
theological and metaphysical embellishments) is right: we are 
really dealing with one world, and the fact that we do not know 
until we do a great deal of science that the states of having pains, 
hearing sounds, experiencing visual sensations, and so on, are in 
reality brain states doesn't mean that they can't be. 

The first contemporary form of this identity theory was 
advanced by several writers, one of the best known being the 
Australian philosopher J. J. C. Smart. At first the suggestion was 
that a sensation, say, a particular sensation of blue, is identical 
with a certain neuro-physiological state. A variant on this, sug- 
gested first by myself, I believe, is a view called functionalism. 2 
On the functionalist view there is indeed an identity here, but 
Smart was looking at the wrong sort of brain property to figure 
as the other term in the identity. According to the functionalist, 
the brain has properties which are in a sense not physical. 

Now, what do I mean by saying that the brain has non- 
physical properties? I mean properties which are definable in 
terms that do not mention the brains physics or chemistry. If it 
seems strange that a system which is physical should have prop- 
erties which are not physical, consider a computing machine. A 
computing machine has many physical properties. It has a cer- 
tain weight, for example; it has a certain number of circuit chips, 
or whatever. It has economic properties, such as having a certain 
price; and it also has functional properties, such as having a cer- 
tain program. Now this last kind of property is non-physical in 
the sense that it can be realized by a system quite apart from 
what its, as it were, metaphysical or ontological composition 

2 N. Block's Readings in Philosophy of Psychology (Harvard 1980) 
contains an excellent collection of articles on Functionalism. My own 
papers are reprinted as Chapters 14 through 22 of my Mind, Language 
and Reality, Philosophical Papers, Vol 2 (Cambridge, 1975). 

Mind and body 


might be. A disembodied spirit might exhibit a certain program, 
a brain might exhibit a certain program, a machine might exhibit 
a certain program and the functional organization of these three, 
the disembodied spirit, the brain, the machine, could be exactly 
the same even though their matter, their stuff, is totally different. 

Psychological properties exhibit the same characteristic; the 
same psychological property (e.g. being angry) can be a property 
of members of thousands of different species which may have 
quite different physics and chemistry (some of these species 
might be extraterrestrial; and perhaps robots will someday 
exhibit anger). The suggestion of the functionalist is that the 
most plausible 'monistic' theory in the twentieth century, the 
most plausible theory that avoids treating Mind and Matter as 
two separate sorts of substance or two separate realms of prop- 
erties, is that psychological properties are identical with func- 
tional properties. 

Today I am still inclined to think that that theory is right; or 
at least that it is the right naturalistic description of the 
mind/body relation. There are other, 'mentalistic', descriptions 
of this relation which are also correct, but not reducible to the 
world-picture we call 'Nature' (indeed the notions of 'rational- 
ity', 'truth', and 'reference' belong to such a 'mentalistic' ver- 
sion). I shall say something about this later (Chapter 6). This fact 
does not dismay me: for, as Nelson Goodman has emphasized, 
one of the attractive features of non-realism is that it allows the 
possibility of alternative right versions of the world. I am, how- 
ever, attracted to the idea that one right version is a naturalistic 
version, in which thought-forms, images, sensations, etc. are 
functionally characterized physical occurrences; and what I wish 
to discuss here is a difficulty with the functionalist theory that 
occurred to me some years ago: that is that the theory has diffi- 
culty with the qualitative character of sensations. When one 
thinks of relatively abstract pure psychological states, e.g. what 
we called a 'bracketed' belief, i.e. a thought considered only in 
its 'notional' content, or of such diffuse emotional states as being 
jealous or being angry, then the identification of these with func- 
tional states of the whole system seems very plausible; but when 
one thinks of having a presented quality, e.g. experiencing a par- 
ticular shade of blue, the identification is implausible. 

An example I have used for many years in lectures is a variant 


Mind and body 

of the famous example of the 'inverted spectrum'. The inverted 
spectrum example (which appears in the writings of Locke 3 ) 
involves a chap who walks about seeing things so that blue looks 
red to him and red looks blue to him (or so that his subjective 
colors resemble the colors on a color negative rather than the 
colors on a color positive). One's first reaction on hearing of 
such a case might be to say, 'Poor chap, people must pity him.' 
But how would anyone ever know? When he sees anything blue, 
it looks red to him, but he's been taught to call that color blue 
ever since he was an infant, so that if one asked him what color 
the object is he would say 'blue'. So no one would ever know. 

My variation was the following: imagine your spectrum 
becomes inverted at a particular time in your life and you 
remember what it was like before that. There is no epistemolog- 
ical problem about 'verification'. You wake up one morning and 
the sky looks red, and your red sweater appears to have turned 
blue, and all the faces are an awful color, as on a color negative. 
Oh my God! Now, perhaps you could learn to change your way 
of talking, and to call things that look red to you 'blue', and 
perhaps you could get good enough so that if someone asked 
you what color someone's sweater was you would give the 'nor- 
mal' answer. But at night, let us imagine that you would moan, 
'Oh, I wish the colors looked the way they did when I was a 
child. The colors just don't look the way they used to.' 

In this case, it seems that one even knows what must have 
happened. Some 'wires' must have gotten 'crossed' in the brain. 
The inputs from blue light, that used to go to one mechanism in 
the brain, now go to another, and the inputs from red light go to 
the first. In other words, something has switched around the 
realizations, the physical states. The physical state that formerly 
played the functional role of signalling the presence of 'objective' 
blue in the environment now signals the presence of 'objective' 
red in the environment. 

Now suppose we adopted the following 'functionalist' theory 
of subjective color: 'a sensation is a sensation of blue (i.e. has 
the qualitative character that I now describe in that way) just in 

3 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, Chapter 32 (sec. 

Mind and body 


case the sensation (or the corresponding physical event in the 
brain) has the role of signalling the presence of objective blue in 
the environment'. This theory captures one sense of the phrase 
'sensation of blue', but not the desired 'qualitative' sense. If this 
functional role were identical with the qualitative character, then 
one couldn't say that the quality of the sensation has changed. 
(If this is not clear, then imagine that after the spectrum inver- 
sion, and after learning to compensate for it linguistically, you 
experience an attack of amnesia which wipes out all memory of 
what colors used to look like. In this case it would seem as if the 
sensation you are now calling a 'sensation of blue' could have 
almost exactly the functional role that the sensation you used to 
call the 'sensation of blue' used to have, while having a totally 
different character.) But the quality has changed. The quality 
doesn't seem to be a functional state in this case. 

It seems to me that the most plausible move for a functionalist 
to make if such cases are really possible is to say, 'Yes, but the 
"qualitative character" is just the physical realization.' And to 
say that for this special kind of psychological property, for qual- 
ities, the older form of the identity theory was the right one. If 
the reader is fairly materialistically inclined, he or she probably 
thinks that the property of having the sensation is a brain prop- 
erty. Readers who are not materialistically inclined probably 
think that the property of having the sensation is correlated with 
a brain state. Probably most people hold one of these two views: 
the view that sensation-states are correlated with brain-states, or 
the view that sensation-states are identical with brain-states. As 
so often happens, the question becomes debated over and over 
in the same way. The way it is always discussed is, 'given that B 
is correlated with Q, isB actually identical with Qf We know that 
this sensation- state parallels this brain-state, is it or is it not the 
case that 'the sensation-state is identical with the brain-state?' 
The more the discussion goes on in that way, the more the 
concept of correlation comes to seem unproblematical. Correla- 
tion isn't (much) discussed because everyone knows that there is 
at least a correlation. Identity is discussed because that is what 
is problematical. But I am going to try 1 to show you that even 
correlation is problematical, not in the sense that there is evi- 
dence of non-correlation, but in the epistemo logical sense that if 


Mind and body 

there is a correlation, one can never know which it is. The prob- 
lem will not depend on assuming materialism, but it will depend 
upon the fact that we think that there is at least a correlation. 

Identity theory and the a priori 

What made the revival of interest in the identity theory and other 
'monist' theories possible, if not initially (not with Smart and 
some of the early identity theorists), at least starting around 
1960, was the change in the epistemological climate. Identity 
theory was not taken seriously prior to the 1960s for the reason 
that philosophers 'knew' it was false. And they thought they 
knew it was false not on the basis of empirical evidence (for what 
sort of empirical evidence could show that a sensation-state is 
not a brain-state?), but a priori. One thinks about it and one just 
sees a priori that a sensation-state couldn't be a brain-state, or 
perhaps one sees that it is meaningless to say that a sensation- 
state is a brain-state in the way in which it is meaningless to say 
that the number three is blue. Prior to 1950 or 1960 people 
thought they just knew, or many people thought they knew, that 
sensation-states can't be physical. Other people thought they 
knew those people were wrong. But argument was impossible. 
The majority would say, 'Look, we can't prove to you that it is 
impossible for a sensation-state to be a neurophysiological state, 
we can't prove to you that every number has a successor, we 
can't prove to you that the number three is not blue, but these 
are things we just know; these are truths of reason. We know 
that it is nonsense or an impossibility for a sensation-state to 
be a neuro-physiological state as clearly as we know anything.' 
One had the majority that knew that sensation-states couldn't 
be brain-states and a minority that knew the majority was 
wrong. Each knew the other was wrong a priori. And there was 
no really significant possibility of argument or movement from 
this frozen state in the debate. 

In 1951 W. V. Quine published a paper titled 'Two Dogmas 
of Empiricism'. 4 From that time on, there has been a steady ero- 
sion in philosophical confidence in the notion of an 'a priori' 

4 Two Dogmas of Empiricism' first appeared in The Philosophical 
Review, 1951. It is reprinted in Quine's From a Logical Point of View. 
(New York, 1961). 

Mind and body 


truth. Quine pointed out that many things we thought we knew 
a priori have had to be revised. Thus, consider the following: 
suppose someone had suggested to Euclid that this could hap- 
pen: that one could have two straight lines which are perpendic- 
ular to a third straight line and which meet . Euclid would have 
said that it was a necessary truth that this couldn't happen. 
According to the physical theory we accept today, it does hap- 
pen. Light passing near the sun behaves as it does not because 
the lighr travels in curved lines, but because the light continues 
to travel in straight lines and the straight lines behave in that 
way in our non-Euclidean world. 

Once we accept that, then some philosopher was bound to ask 
the question, 'What is left of the a priori? 9 , and Quine did. 
(Quine also showed convincingly that the standard empiricist 
accounts oia priority — e.g. the notion of 'truth by convention' — 
were incoherent, but I shall not review his arguments.) 

In some ways, I think, Quine went too far. Quine's assertion 
that 'no statement is immune from revision' suggests that for 
every statement there are circumstances under which it would be 
rational to reject it. But this is pretty clearly false: under what 
circumstances, after all, would it be rational to reject 'Not every 
statement is true', i.e. to accept 'All statements are true'? 5 

But if Quine does overstate the case against the a priori, what 
he is nonetheless right about is this: our notions of rationality 
and of rational revisability are not fixed by some immutable 
book of rules, nor are they written into our transcendental 
natures, as Kant thought, for the very good reason that the 
whole idea of a transcendental nature, a nature that we have 
noumenally, apart from any way in which we can conceive of 
ourselves historically or biologically, is nonsensical. Since our 
notions of rationality and of rational revisability are the product 
of our all too limited experience and all too fallible biology, it is 
to be expected that even principles we regard as 'a priori', or 
'conceptual', or whatever, will from time to time turn out to 
need revision in the light of unexpected experiences or unantici- 
pated theoretical innovations. Such revision cannot be unlim- 
ited: otherwise we would no longer have a concept of anything 

5 I discuss Quine's attack on the notion of the a priori in 'Analyticity and 
Apriority: Beyond Wittgenstein and Quine', Midwest Studies in 
Philosophy, Vol. IV, 1979 (Minnesota). 


Mind and body 

we could call rationality; but the limits are not in general possi- 
ble for us to state. Apart from trivial cases (e.g. 'Not every state- 
ment is true') we cannot be sure that it would never be rational 
in any context to give up a statement that is regarded (and legit- 
imately so, in a given context) as a 'necessary' truth. In general, 
we have to admit that considerations of simplicity, overall util- 
ity, and plausibility may lead us to give up something that was 
formerly regarded as a priori, and that this is reasonable. Philo- 
sophy has become anti-aprioristic. But once we have recognized 
that most of what we regard as a priori truth is of a contextual 
and relative character, we have given up the only good 'argu- 
ment' there was against mind— body identity. Identity theorists 
were bound to point this out, and they did. So there was a 
changed situation. 

I have been using the notion of a property; but it seems to me 
that there are at least two notions of a 'property' that have 
become confused in our minds. 6 There is a very old notion for 
which the term 'predicate' used to be employed (e.g. in the 
famous question, 'Is existence a predicate?'), and there is the 
notion that we use today when we speak of 'physical properties', 
'fundamental magnitudes', etc. When a philosopher has the 
older notion in mind, he frequently regards talk of properties as 
interchangeable with talk of concepts. For such a philosopher, 
properties cannot be the same unless it is a conceptual truth that 
they are the same; in particular, the property of having a sensa- 
tion with a certain qualitative character cannot be the same as 
the property of being in a certain brain-state, since the corre- 
sponding predicates are not synonymous (in the wide sense of 
'analytically equivalent'), and the principle of individuation for 
predicates is just that being P is one and the same predicate as 
being Q just in case 'is P' is synonymous with 'is Q'. 

Consider, however, the situation which arises when a scientist 
asserts that temperature is mean molecular kinetic energy. On 
the face of it, this is a statement of identity of properties. What 
is being asserted is that the property of having a particular tem- 
perature is really (in some sense of 'really') the same property as 
the property of having a certain molecular energy; or (more gen- 

6 See *On Properties', Chapter 19 of my Mathematics, Matter and 
Method, Philosophical Papers, Vol. 1 (Cambridge, 1975). 

Mind and body 


erally) that the physical magnitude temperature is one and the 
same physical magnitude as mean molecular kinetic energy. If 
this is right, then since 'x has such-and-such a temperature' is 
not synonymous with 'x has blah-blah mean molecular kinetic 
energy', even when 'blah-blah' is the value of molecular energy 
that corresponds to the value 'such-and-such' of the tempera- 
ture, it must be that what the physicist means by 'physical mag- 
nitude' is something quite other than what philosophers have 
called a 'predicate' or a 'concept'. 

To be specific, the difference is that, whereas synonymy of the 
expression 'X is P 3 and S X is Q' is required for the predicates P 
and Q to be the 'same', it is not required for the property P to 
be the same as the property Q. Properties, as opposed to predi- 
cates, can be 'synthetically identical'. 

If there is such a thing as synthetic identity of properties, then 
why shouldn't it be the case that the property of being in a cer- 
tain brain-state is the same property as the property of having a 
sensation of a certain qualitative character (very much in line 
with Spinoza's thinking) - even though it is not a conceptual 
truth that it is, even though, in fact, it seems to many to be a 
priori false? This is the argument that was made. In short, we 
had a wave of anti-apriorism, we had the new machinery of the 
synthetic identity of properties, and with these two the identity 
theorist and in particular the functionalist seem automatically to 
be in business. 

Now, I want to consider what happens when to these two 
things we add a third. What happens if a philosopher is (1) an 
anti-aprioristic naturalist, who (2) allows that there is such a 
thing as the synthetic identity of properties, and (3) also has a 
hard-line realist view of truth? I wish to claim that such a phi- 
losopher will find himself confronted with serious epistemologi- 
cal difficulties. 

Split brains 

Let us consider a particular kind of experiment that neurologists 
have performed in the last twenty years. This is the famous 'split 
brain', or brain disassociation experiment. I want to discuss the 
relevance of this kind of experiment to the identity theory and to 


Mind and body 

what has so far been taken for granted in the whole discussion, 
the notion that there is a correlation. 

On the model of the brain as a cognitive system resembling a 
computer, the brain has a language, an internal language (which 
may be innate, or which may be a mixture of an innate 'lan- 
guage', or system of representation, and a public language). 
Some philosophers have even invented a name for this hypothet- 
ical brain language, 'mentalese'. Let us consider what happens 
when one has a visual sensation on such a model (and I shall 
make up my neurology, since I don't know enough, but I don't 
think anyone really knows enough). Here is one possible story: 

When one has a sensation a 'judgment' is made; the brain has 
to 'print' something like 'red presented at 12 o'clock'. So the 
quality (call it 'Q') corresponds, among other things, to a record 
in mentalese. Also, there is an input to the verbal processing cen- 
ter, the center which is connected with the voice box, which 
accounts for the brain's ability to report in the public language, 
'red now'. It may be that the judgment in mentalese has to be 
transmitted from one location to another before there is an input 
to the speech center. There are also events in the visual cortex 
(which have been studied by the neurologists Hubel and Wiesel), 
which I am imagining as on the road to the 'record in mentalese', 
and the verbal process. These 'records', 'inputs', and other 
events may take place in different lobes of the brain: if the cor- 
pus collosum is split, the person's right lobe (the lobe that 
doesn't have speech) can see red (or at least it will affirmatively 
signal in response to a written query visible only to that lobe), 
but if one asks the subject what color the card is, he will reply 
'I can't see the card.' And, finally, there is at some point the 
formation of a memory trace or of memory traces (one could 
break this up into short-term memory and long-term memory). 
There almost certainly is not a linear causal chain; there are 
probably branchings and rejoinings, a causal network. 

The problem is that psychology divides up mental events in a 
fairly discrete way. Here is a sensation of blue. Now it started; 
now it stopped. Causal networks are not discrete. There isn't a 
unique physical event which is the correlate of the sensation. 

If the identity theory is right, then the sensation-state Q is 
identical with some brain-state or other. A metaphysical realist 
cannot regard it as in any way a matter of convention or deci- 

Mind and body 


sion, or as having a conventional component, which brain-state 
Q is identical with. The position is that as a matter of fact we 
live in a world in which what we experience as the qualitative 
characters of sensations really are one and the same properties 
as some of the properties that we encounter in other ways as 
physical properties of brain events. (Or better put, in which the 
property of having a sensation of a certain qualitative character 
is really just the property of being in a certain brain-state.) 

Let us stop for a moment and see what the view actually says. 
Suppose that red is the subjective quality we're attending to (pro- 
duced, say, by staring at a green disk and then removing the disk 
to get an afterimage). Suppose that when I experience this red, 
the sensation-state I am in is identical to a disjunction of brain 
states. It can't be identical to one maximally specified brain state, 
because we know that one can take away any one neuron, or 
whatever, and one can still have the experience. But the property 
might be a disjunctive one, say (implausibly), the even numbered 
neurons in area blah-blah are firing or the prime numbered ones 
are firing. Actually, it would be a much bigger disjunction than 
that. There would be a huge collection of neurological states 
such that their disjunction would be the property of experiencing 

But now we go a little further. If the even numbered neurons 
in area blah-blah are firing, I experience red. If the cerebroscope 
says, 'no, the prime numbered neurons in area blah-blah are fir- 
ing', I still experience red. That is, I can't tell which of these 
brain-states I'm in. If I experience red I have to be in one of 
them. But I can't distinguish between them. The even numbered 
neurons in area blah-blah are firing is not an observable prop- 
erty. Even with the knowledge that the identity theory is true, I 
can't tell from my sensations that I have this property. Call this 
property T/ and call the property that the odd numbered neu- 
rons are firing T 2 \ The sensation-state is identical with the dis- 
junction (P 1 or P 2 )> where this is, of course, a third property. P t 
is not a sensation-state, and P 2 is not a sensation-state; it is only 
their disjunction that is a sensation-state. In other words, in this 
ontology, the disjunction of two properties which are themselves 
unobservable can be observable. It is a complicated logical func- 
tion of unobservable properties that I experience as a simple 
given. That is the position. 


Mind and body 

It may be that I have made the view sound silly. Thus, a friend 
of mine has remarked, 'Suppose the only device we have for 
detecting muons doesn't distinguish between muons and anti- 
muons. Then muon isn't an observable property, and antimuon 
isn't an observable property, but the disjunction of them is. This 
only seems to be paradoxical to those who take observationality 
to be less of a pragmatic notion than it is.' My purpose, however, 
is not to ridicule the view, which, indeed, constitutes a very 
important and legitimate research program in neurophysiology, 
but to make clear what it commits one to. What leads to diffi- 
culties, I shall argue, is not the identity theory by itself but the 
identity theory taken in conjunction with metaphysical realism — 
i.e. taken in conjunction with what I called the 'externalist' per- 
spective on the nature of truth. 

One can avoid committing oneself to such a perspective. Thus, 
Carnap would have said (at least in a certain period) that talk 
about physical objects is highly derived talk about sensations, 
and that the decision to say that a particular brain state is iden- 
tical with a sensation-state Q is really a decision to modify the 
language of talk about physical properties in a certain way, to 
change our concept of the physical property in question. 

Since physical object and physical property talk is only highly 
derived talk about sensations, we can modify the rules. But that 
standpoint isn't the standpoint of metaphysical realism, at least 
with respect to material objects and physical properties. Some- 
body who thinks like that might be a metaphysical realist about 
sensations, but he is not a metaphysical realist about material 
objects, and since he regards material object talk as somewhat 
soft, he can adopt the identity theory by simply saying 'I adopt 
it as a kind of convention, as a further meaning stipulation.' 
Since the meanings were not totally fixed beforehand, since there 
was some openness of texture, there is no problem about 'how 
can you know that the sensation-state is identical with this prop- 
erty and not some other?' If what this property is is somewhat 
vague, then we're allowed to simply postulate the identity as a 
meaning specification. But I'm talking to someone who really 
thinks there is a material world out there, and it is not just highly 
derived talk about sensations; who really thinks that there are 
physical properties; and who holds that such expressions as 'the 
neurons in such and such a channel are firing' predicate definite 

Mind and body 


physical properties of us, and either those properties are or 
aren't identical to this sensation-state. 

Similarly for a philosopher like Daniel Dennett, who thinks 
that sensation talk is highly vague, who doesn't think there is a 
well defined subjective property of being in this sensation-state, 
of having a sensation with this qualitative character. I think he 
too could adopt an identity theory as a meaning stipulation, fix- 
ing not the meaning of the physical object terms this time, but 
the meaning of the psychological terms. But again, that wouldn't 
be the position of a full-blown metaphysical realist. 

I am considering a full-blown realist who thinks 'yes, I know 
what this psychological property (the sensation-state) is. I've had 
it. I can recognize it. I think it's a definite psychological property 
to which I refer. I know what P x and P 2 are, therefore what {P x 
or P 2 ) is, and either the sensation-state is identical to this or it 
isn't.' Just in the way that a naive physicist might say, 'there's no 
element of convention' (I think he'd be wrong by the way); 
'there's no element of convention in the decision that tempera- 
ture is mean molecular kinetic energy, either temperature is 
mean molecular kinetic energy, or it's some other property'. 
That is the standpoint I want to examine. 

The problem is that if one takes this metaphysical realist 
standpoint, then there are many more possibilities than people 
are wont to consider. The possibility that first comes to mind is 
that the sensation-state is identical with the property of having 
the appropriate events take place in the visual cortex and having 
the 'record' in 'mentalese' appropriately registered and having 
the input to the speech center and having the memory traces 
formed - i.e. the sensation-state is thought of as identical to the 
conjunction of these several properties. But as soon as we con- 
sider the possibility of disassociation, then we become unsure 
that we really want the whole conjunction. Perhaps the sensation 
is just the event in the visual cortex? (I.e. the property of having 
the sensation is 'really' the property of having the event take 
place in the visual cortex.) 

Let us make the assumption that it is, for the moment. Now 
let us suppose we can cut off the process that produces the 
record in mentalese, or at least cut off the input to the speech 
center. Let us imagine that we have shown the subject a red card 
on the left side of his visual field (so that the card is only 'visible 


Mind and body 

to the right lobe', as neurologists say). The appropriate event in 
the visual cortex will then take place in the right lobe, but if we 
say to the subject, 'Do you see anything red?', the subject will 
say, 'No'. 

Now, by one criterion we employ to decide whether or not 
someone has a sensation, the criterion of sincere verbal reports, 
we should have to say that he didn't have the sensation of red, 
and therefore that we have refuted the theory that Q (the rele- 
vant qualitative character) is identical with the visual cortex 
property in question. But someone could object, 'No, you 
haven't refuted that theory at all. Because, what kind of an 
observer is this? The chap's brain is cut in two.' As far as any 
observer in a normal condition can tell, Q is identical with this 
property of the visual cortex. And observers who are not in a 
normal condition don't count. They can't count. 

The difficulty is that there are identity theories which are 
observationally indistinguishable, 7 by which I mean that they 
lead to the same predictions with respect to the experience of all 
observers in a normal condition. 

Consider the view that one doesn't have the sensation of red 
unless one has the input to the speech center. How could one 
prove that or refute it? One might think, if we split the corpus 
colossum but there is some memory that doesn't go through the 
verbal processing unit, then there is a way; namely, we first ask 
the chap whether he has a sensation of red. He says, 'No'. Then 
we sew the corpus colossum back together (a neat trick if you 
can do it!), and ask, 'Did you have a sensation of red?' He might 
say, 'Yes, but it was crazy, you know I had this sensation of red 
and you asked me whether I had it, and I heard myself sincerely 

7 The notion of 'Observational Indistinguishability' was introduced in 
papers on space-time theory by Clark Glymour and David Malament in 
Foundations of Space-Time Theories, Earman, Glymour, and Stachel 
(eds.), Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. VIII 
{Minnesota University 1977). The analogous problem in space-time 
theory is the existence of 'possible* space-times (i.e. space— times allowed 
by relativity theory) which differ in their global topological properties, 
but in which observers would have exactly the same experiences. Such 
examples are often dismissed on the grounds that 'simplicity 
considerations' would tell one which space-time one is living in; the 
trouble with this (as Malament points out) is that the physical theory 
(general relativity) doesn't say we live in the simplest space-time 
compatible with its laws. 

Mind and body 


telling you I didn't.' (I am told that actually it is more customary 
for patients to 'reconcile' or rationalize situations of this kind 
than to describe them as I have just imagined.) Would such a 
report show that there was a sensation of red without there 
being an input to the speech center? 

It would not. If Daniel Dennett (who at one time held the view 
that the sensation is the input to the speech center, or a view 
close to this 8 ) wished to reconcile this subject's report with his 
theory, all he would have to say is, 'I don't deny that at the later 
time the psychological event of remembering having had the sen- 
sation earlier took place. I deny that the sensation took place at 
the earlier time.' On either theory the subject later has the expe- 
rience of remembering rightly or wrongly that he had the sensa- 
tion of red earlier. 

The disagreement here is an actual one. Most neurologists do 
believe that in the 'split brain' patients the right lobe is 'con- 
scious'. In effect, this amounts to saying that there is sometimes 
a sensation of red, or whatever, even though there is no input to 
the speech center. (There are two loci of consciousness', is the 
way it is frequently put.) At least one famous neurologist, Eccles, 
holds, however, that the disassociated right lobe (or left lobe, in 
the case of patients who have the speech center on the right) is 
not conscious. There is a unitary consciousness on Eccles' view; 
that the disassociated right lobe can 'simulate' conscious behav- 
ior does not show that it is a second 'locus of consciousness', he 
would say. 

Nor will it help to appeal to methodological maxims, e.g. 
'choose the simpler theory'; for there does not appear to be any 
relevant kind of 'simplicity' which is possessed by the 'unitary' 
view and lacked by the 'two loci' view, or possessed by the 'two 
loci' view and lacked by the 'unitary' view. Perhaps the 'two loci' 
view is simpler in one respect; it says that certain behavioral 
capacities (which the right lobe possesses, even if it does not pos- 
sess speech) are sufficient for consciousness, and this agrees with 
the fact that we call animals (who do not possess speech either) 
conscious. But there are many dissimilarities between an animal 
with an intact brain, whose brain processes are still 'integrated', 

8 Dennett's model of consciousness is presented in 'Towards a Cognitive 
theory of Consciousness', reprinted in his Brainstorms (Bradford Books, 


Mind and body 

even if they do not involve speech, and one piece of a 'split 
brain'. If the case were not one which touches us so nearly, if we 
did not have such a strong tendency to metaphysical realism 
about sensations, would it not be in keeping with our best meth- 
odological intuitions to regard this as a case to be legislated 
rather than fought over? 

In short, there are a number of observationally indistinguish- 
able identity theories. If the identity theorist is right, it would 
seem that there is no way on earth in which one could know 
which way he is right; know with which brain-state a given 
sensation-state is identical (or correlated with). The point is suf- 
ficiently important to deserve further illustration. 

Thomas Nagel 9 has made the plausible claim that one cannot 
imagine what it would be like to be a bat. But why should this 
be a plausible claim? Some years ago I read a delightful book 
about bats by Donald Griffin. I came to realize that bats are not 
basically different from any other mammals. We mostly do think 
we can imagine what sensations our dogs and cats have. What is 
the difficulty with bats? 

Well, bats can hear sounds several octaves higher than we can. 
I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a bat in the sense of 
imagining what the echolocation sensation would be. But need 
this be so difficult? I used to be able to hear sounds an octave 
higher than the highest sounds I can hear in middle age. But the 
subjective pitches have not changed: the highest sounds I can 
hear may be an octave lower than the highest sounds I could 
hear when I was ten years old in objective pitch, but the highest 
sounds I hear now have the same thin, squeaky quality that the 
sounds on the threshold of being too high to hear always did for 
me. Perhaps that's how a sound five octaves higher than those 
we hear sounds to a bat: like a short high squeak. 

Now, imagine a debate between two philosophers or psychol- 
ogists, one of whom says no bat quale is at all like any human 
quale. Batqualia are unimaginably different from human qualia. 
You will never be able to imagine what it feels like to be a bat 
(or even a dog or cat). The other philosopher, we may imagine, 
replies, 'Nonsense! Perhaps there arc some bat sensations I can't 
imagine. There are some sensations of other humans (e.g. some 

9 'What is it like to be a bat?*, reprinted in N. Block, op. cit. 

Mind and body 


sensations of the other sex) I probably can't imagine, but that 
doesn't mean I regard the psychological space of those other 
humans as unimaginably different from my own. Why shouldn't 
I think of the bat's visual field, for example, as very much like 
my visual field? (N.B. Bats see very well, contrary to folklore.) 
Allowing for some adjustments for the optics of the bat eye, or 
the bat's hearing within the range that overlaps with mine, it's 
like my hearing, and its pains are like my pains.' Now could we 
settle this? 

Because the number of neurons is different, and because the 
arrangement is different (the acoustic center of the bat's brain is 
enlarged to become 7/8ths of the brain), the properties at the 
most completely specified neurological level - number of neu- 
rons firing where - which are identical with a quale in the case 
of a bat on the assumption that the identity theory is correct, 
cannot literally be the same as the properties which are identical 
with any quale in the case of a human. Or can they? Suppose 
that when a bat has a certain visual sensation (produced by 
seeing red objects), that the bat's brain has the disjunctive prop- 
erty (?! or P 2 ), where P r and P 2 are maximally specified states of 
the bat's brain. (It would really be a much more complicated 
disjunctive property with thousands of cases, but let us sim- 
plify.) And let us suppose that when I have a certain visual sen- 
sation (produced by seeing red objects), my brain has the dis- 
junctive property (?/ or P 2 ')- Consider the following two 
theories: (1) that the qualitative character of the bat's sensation 
(call it, Weds) is identical with (or at least correlated with) the 
disjunctive property (P x or P 2 ) and the qualitative character of 
the human sensation (call it, ( red H ') is identical with (or at least 
correlated with) the different property (P/ or P 2 '). (2) That the 
qualitative character of the bat's sensation is identical with the 
qualitative character of my sensation (i.e. red B —red H ) and both 
are identical with (or correlated with) the more complex disjunc- 
tive property (P t or P 2 or P t ' or P 2 '). 

On the first theory the bat and I have different experiences, 
while on the second we have the same experience; but these two 
theories lead to the same predictions with respect to what human 
observers, normal and abnormal will experience. Once again, 
they are observationally indistinguishable. 

Will methodological maxims ('choose the simpler theory') 


Mind and body 

help? Once again, it is not clear that they can. Ned Block has 
pointed out that the first theory is simpler in one respect (the 
quale is identified with a simpler physical property in each case), 
but the second is simpler in another respect (the second theory is 
'non-chauvinist'; it allows that one doesn't have to have exactly 
our physical constitution to have our qualia). And once again, 
we lack principles for determining a unique preferred trade-off. 
Indeed, what reason is there to think there should or must be 
such principles? Why should we not, as Wittgenstein urged we 
do, abandon our metaphysical realism about sensations and 
about 'same' (as applied to sensations), and treat this too as a 
case to be legislated rather than fought over? 

Finally, I want to present three theories which I am sure are 
false, but which it is difficult or impossible to rule out if meta- 
physical realism is right. These are: (1) that red H is identical with 
a functional (or quasi-functional) state after all, namely the state 
of being in whatever material (e.g. physical) state earliest in your 
life played the functional role of normally signalling the presence 
of objective red. (2) that rocks have qualia (i.e. events qualita- 
tively similar to, as it might be, visual sensations, take place in 
rocks). (3) that nations are conscious. 

Let us first consider (1). Recall the argument I used to show 
that red H could not be a functional state. That argument was 
that if we identified red H with the functional state of being in 
whatever material state (e.g. brain-state) normally signals the 
presence of objective red, then I would not have undergone a 
spectrum inversion (at least in the 'amnesia' case), since I am in 
that functional state when I see something objectively red both 
before the spectrum inversion and after the spectrum inversion 
(allowing time for linguistic adjustment to take place, and, if 
necessary, postulating an attack of amnesia). But on a metaphys- 
ical realist position it is certainly possible that I have undergone 
a spectrum inversion (even though I don't remember it because 
of the attack of amnesia). The case is even stronger if I don't 
have an attack of amnesia and recall that my spectrum has been 
inverted; even in this case, if the linguistic adjustments have 
become automatic, there is a sense in which what used to be 'the 
sensation of green' now plays the functional role of 'signalling 
the presence of objective red in the environment'. 

This argument only shows that red H is not identical with the 

Mind and body 


functional state mentioned. It does not show that it is not iden- 
tical with a more complicated functional state, such as the state 
of being in whatever material state earliest in your life realized 
the above functional state. One might object that this is a funny 
property, a complicated logical function of functional proper- 
ties. But why is a complicated logical function of functional 
properties less likely to be identical with red H than a disjunction 
of complicated physical properties? Does the world prefer dis- 
junctions of physical properties to conjunctions of functional 

Let us consider (2). Let P 3 be the property of being a rock, and 
consider the hypothesis that red H is identical with the disjunctive 
property (?! or P 2 or P/ or P 2 ' or P 3 ). Of course, rocks have this 
property all the time. So on this hypothesis, events of the quali- 
tative character red H are taking place in rocks all the time. (They 
are not experiencing red in the functional sense of experiencing 
red, but an event of the qualitative character of the event that 
plays the functional role of being the sensation of red in us is 
taking place in them all the time.) Or consider more complicated 
hypotheses on which rocks are having different qualia at differ- 
ent times. Or just the hypothesis that some one of these 
hypotheses (which not specified) is correct. We might say 'Well, 
these hypotheses are crazy.' Yes, they are. But each of them leads 
to the same predictions with respect to all human observers as 
the 'sane' theory. None of them can be ruled out on observa- 
tional or experimental grounds, because each of them is obser- 
vationally indistinguishable from the more standard view. 

We might think that these theories can be ruled out by an 
appeal to the methodological principle that one shouldn't attrib- 
ute a property to an object with no reason. Of course this prin- 
ciple doesn't say these theories are false (sometimes things we 
have no reason to believe are true), but at least it says we are 
justified in taking them to be false. But is there really no reason 
to hold the least specific of these theories (the theory that some 
such theory is correct, and rocks have qualia) ? What of the argu- 
ment that if we have qualia and physicalism is true (and many 
philosophers think there are many good reasons for accepting 
physicalism), then there is at least one physical object in which 
events with a qualitative character take place: so why shouldn't 
such events take place in all physical objects? If we could show 


Mind and body 

that there is something about the quale itself which requires that 
it have the particular functional 'role' that it does in the case of 
humans then this move would be blocked; but this is just what 
believers in qualia as metaphysically real objects tell us we can't 

Last but not least, let us consider (3). Consider the hypothesis 
that pain is identical with an appropriate functional state which 
can be exhibited by either organisms or nations. In other words, 
suppose that when the United States announces that 'the United 
States is pained by . . .' it really is. We would, of course, never 
know. Perhaps the reader is at this moment finding it interesting 
and mildly amusing that a group can behave in ways which 
resemble the ways in which something that really does feel pain 
behaves when it manifests its pain; but the reader does not think 
that the United States really feels pain. On this hypothesis, the 
reader would be wrong: the national Geist would really be feel- 
ing pain. 

This hypothesis connects with an interesting discussion in the 
philosophy of mind. An argument that functionalists (including 
me) like to employ is the following 'anti-chauvinism' argument: 
in principle, the differences between a robot and a human (in 
functional organization, anyway) could be reduced to small 
details of the physics and chemistry. One might even have a 
robot that corresponded to us down to the neuron level. (It could 
even have a 'flesh and blood' body, apart from the brain.) The 
difference would be that whereas we have neurons made of car- 
bon and hydrogen and proteins and so on, it would have neu- 
rons made of electronics, but from the neuron level up all the 
circuitry would exactly correspond. Now, unless you are a 
'hydrogen— carbon chauvinist' who thinks that carbon and 
hydrogen are intrinsically more conscious, why shouldn't you 
say that this robot is a person whose brain happens to have more 
metal in it and less hydrogen and carbon? 

This argument has provoked the following reply: 'Well, 
instead of these electronic gadgets, electronic neurons wired 
together in the same circuits that human neurons are wired in, 
let us suppose you have miniature people, little girl scouts and 
boy scouts.' We don't even have to imagine that these little peo- 
ple even know what the whole scheme is for, or that they see 
anything except a dimly lit room, or a lot of dimly lit rooms, in 

Mind and body 


which they pass notes to one another. (Their time would have to 
pass very fast relative to 'our' time, of course.) They could be 
alienated workers. 'Now,' the reply continues, 'you wouldn't 
call that thing "conscious" because you know that it is really 
only these little people moving the body. And that shows that an 
appropriate functional organization (one like ours) is not suffi- 
cient to justify the application of such predicates as 

One reply to this reply (the one I actually made) was to deny 
that the 'hydra-headed robot' (as this last thing has been called) 
does have the same functional organization we do. But there is 
a more radical reply I might have made. I might have said, 'Why 
shouldn't we call the hydra-headed robot conscious? If the first 
argument is right (and I think it is), if the robot with the posi- 
tronic brain would be conscious, why would the fact that the 
neurons of the hydra-headed robot are more conscious mean 
that the whole thing is less conscious? After all, we are in a sense 
a society of small animals. Our cells are in a sense individual 
animals. And perhaps they have some little bit of feeling, who 
knows? Over and above our feeling.' Now, if we move that way, 
if we decide that the hydra-headed robot is conscious (even 
though its neurons are boy scouts and girl scouts), then why not 
the United States? 

I don't, of course, claim that the United States has the same 
functional organization as homo sapiens. Clearly it doesn't. But 
there are many similarities. The United States has defensive 
organs. It has ingesting organs, it eats oil and copper and so on. 
It excretes (pollution) in vast quantities. Is it not perhaps as sim- 
ilar in functional organization to a mammal as is a wriggling fly, 
to which we do attribute pain? 

How well-defined is 'qualitative character'? 

So far we have not questioned the idea that it is perfectly clear 
what it means to say that two of one's own sensations have or 
do not have the same 'qualitative character'. Even at an intro- 
spective level, this is not the case, however. For one thing, just 
what one's experiences seem to one to be is notoriously depen- 
dent on antecedent conceptualization, as when we report seeing 
a round table top even when we view it from an angle. 


Mind and body 

In the case of the round table top, psychologists and philoso- 
phers have argued since the nineteenth century about whether 
one has 'eliptical sense data' and thinks that they are round 
(unless one is a 'trained introspectionist') or has round 'Gestalts' 
and only thinks that they are elliptical because of optical theory. 
One can have experiences which fit each description; and many 
experiences will fit either description. Nor is neurology likely to 
settle this dispute: the elliptical image on the retina doubtless 
produces events in the brain itself, and if we identify these with 
the 'visual sensation', then we may well get something like the 
classical story of 'elliptical sense-data plus unconscious infer- 
ences'; the judged character of the experience ('I see a round 
table top') also corresponds to 'records' and 'inputs' in the brain, 
and if we identify these with the visual sensation, we may well 
get a story in which one doesn't have elliptical sense-data unless 
one judges that something looks elliptical. Why should we not 
say that these two versions are both legitimate? As Goodman 
says about the case of the subject who is asked to describe appar- 
ent motion, 

The best we can do is to specify the sort of terms, the 
vocabulary, he is to use, telling him to describe what he 
sees in perceptual or phenomenal rather than physical 
terms. Whether or not this yields different responses, it 
casts an entirely different light on what is happening. 
That the instrument to be used in fashioning the facts 
must be specified makes pointless any identification of the 
physical with the real and of the perceptual with the 
merely apparent. The perceptual is no more a rather 
distorted version of the physical facts than the physical is 
a highly artificial version of the perceptual facts. 10 

If I see a red tablecloth at two different times during the day, 
do I have the same sensation of red? Or do I have different sen- 
sations and not notice the difference (unless I happen to be a 

An especially baffling case is the case of accommodation. If a 
subject is given glasses which turn the image upside down, after 
a time things will again look normal to the subject. Have the 

10 Ways of Worldmaking, pp. 92-3. 

Mind and body 


sense-data 'flipped back'? Or has he gotten used to altered sense 
data, and reinterpreted 'up' and 'down'? Very likely the subject 
himself cannot say at what point things became normal or which 
of these things happened. (Readers who like me wear bifocals 
can ask themselves: does the lower half of the visual field look 
different even when one isn't noticing the difference?) While 
there are transformations to which subjects never accommodate 
(in fact, it is only relatively simple changes to which one accom- 
modates), and I have assumed that one would not accommodate 
to a color-inversion, the phenomenon of accommodation cer- 
tainly casts doubt on the extent to which 'same qualitative char- 
acter' is a well-defined notion. 

Realism about qualia 

We have considered a set of sceptical difficulties. What they pur- 
port to show is not that the identity theory is wrong (or that the 
correlation theory is wrong - note that they can all be stated as 
difficulties for a 'correlation' view just as much as for an identity 
view), but that, if it is true, then there are a vast number of alter- 
native ways of specifying the details such that one can never 
know which one of them is true. And not knowing which one of 
them is true means not knowing what the answer is to a great 
many traditional sceptical questions, such as whether rocks and 
other inanimate objects have qualia, whether bats and other spe- 
cies have the kind of qualia we have or don't have the kind of 
qualia we have, whether groups can feel pain, and so on. 

But why should any philosopher think it is even a logical pos- 
sibility that a rock can have a pain (i.e. that an event of the same 
'qualitative character' as a human pain can take place 'in' a 
rock)? Perhaps Russell gives us some clue to the nature of this 
kind of metaphysical realism. Russell was a realist about qualia 
and a realist about universals. Moreover, he took qualia to be 
paradigmatic universals. A universal is, above all, a way in 
which things can be similar; and to Russell it seemed that the 
qualitative similarities of one's own sensations are the episte- 
mologically most primitive and most fundamental examples of 
'ways in which things can be similar'. Qualia, for Russell, are 
universals par excellence. 


Mind and body 

Universals, however, are thought of as totally well-defined by 
a traditional realist: words may be vague, but universals them- 
selves can't be vague. (A vague word is vague because it stands 
for a vague set of concepts, Godel once said in a conversation; 
but the concepts are perfectly well-defined.) 

So, if qualia are universals and universals are by nature well- 
defined, it must be perfectly well-defined whether any given 
thing or event - including a half of a split brain or some event in 
it; including a rock or some event in it; including a nation or 
group or some event in it- does or doesn't exhibit any given 
quale. And if the quale is thought of as independent of the func- 
tional role it plays, if it is thought to be wholly contingent that 
the qualitative character of a sensation of red is the qualitative 
character of something which has that particular functional role, 
then it does seem to be a logical possibility that the split brain or 
the rock has that quale. 

A philosopher like myself who wishes to deny that every one 
of these possibilities makes sense (although some of them may - 
there is a temptation to treat the right lobe of the split brain as 
a 'locus of consciousness', and I have suggested that it would be 
legitimate to decide to do this) has to be careful to make clear 
that he is not espousing some form of behaviorism. Saying that 
*qualia' are not well defined entities is not the same thing as say- 
ing they don't exist, that it is all just behavior, or whatever. 
Many notions are vague and still have some clear referents. The 
notion of a house, for example, is ill-defined in the case of igloos 
(is an igloo a house?), in the case of hogans, perhaps in other 
cases as well. ButTne fact that there is no fact of the matter as to 
whether or not an igloo is a house doesn't mean that houses 
don't exist. And, similarly, the fact that there is no fact of the 
matter as to whether or not the right lobe is 'conscious' doesn't 
mean that conscious beings don't exist. 

Qualitative similarity of sensations is defined to some extent: 
if I have a sensation of red followed by a sensation of green, I 
know that I have had dissimilar sensations (and I know this 
without comparing their functional roles), and if I have a sensa- 
tion of red followed by the 'same' sensation of red, I know (up 
to the vagueness we discussed above) that I have had similar 
sensations. But, for someone with an 'internalist' perspective on 
truth, it does not follow that there is a fact of the matter in every 

Mind and body 


case as to whether two sensations (let alone two arbitrary events) 
are qualitatively similar or dissimilar. 

Let £ be the event of my having a particular sensation at a 
particular time and £' be some physical event in a rock. The 
suggestion that the qualitative character of £ (say, red H ) might 
be identical with or correlated to some such property as {P x or 
P 2 or P 3 ) (where P 3 is the property of being a rock) offends any 
sane human sensibility. The suggestion that E and £' might be 
'qualitatively similar' events is absurd. We have already dis- 
cussed one explanation of this absurdity: the explanation that 
the hypothesis is absurd because it violates the methodological 
maxim 'do not ascribe properties to an object without a reason'. 
Even if this explanation worked, what it would yield is far less 
than the impossibility of rocks having qualia (or the incoherence 
of the notion that they do). If this is all that is wrong with the 
'hypothesis' that rocks have qualia then we are in the position of 
having to say: it is possible for all we know that rocks have 
qualia, but it is a priori highly improbable that they do. 

In fact, the hypothesis that rocks have qualia is incoherent in 
much the way that the Brain in a Vat hypothesis is incoherent: 
like the Brain in a Vat hypothesis, this 'hypothesis' presupposes 
a magical theory of reference. Any sane human being regards E 
and E f as so dissimilar that the question of 'qualitative similar- 
ity' (in the sense in which two sensations can be qualitatively 
similar, i.e. feel the same way) does not even arise. But the meta- 
physical realist, while not denying this at all, thinks that £ and 
£' might (logically possibly) be similar in this way, even though 
it is 'crazy' to think so. And he thinks this because he is under 
the illusion that by having the sensation in question, with its 
qualitative character, its 'the way it feels', with its functional 
role, with the accompanying thoughts and judgments, he has 
somehow brought it about that the expression 'the way this sen- 
sation feels' (or some technical substitute, e.g. 'the qualitative 
character of this sensation', or 'red H \ or 'this quale') refers to 
one definite 'universal', one absolutely well-defined property of 
metaphysical individual events. But this is not the case. 

If there actually were robots functionally isomorphic to us and 
we worked with them, argued with them, had some of them as 
friends, we would quickly feel sure that they were conscious. 
(We might still be puzzled as to whether they had the same 


Mind and body 

qualia we do; but we would not think of this any more often 
than we think of the question whether bats or dogs have the 
same qualia we do.) Suppose, however, we encountered hydra- 
headed robots. (Imagine that they actually evolved by some 
biological process somewhere, just as animals in symbiotic rela- 
tionships evolve on earth.) What would we feel about them? 

While one cannot really feel sure about so bizarre a case, it 
seems that even here (if we interacted mostly with the whole 
robot and only rarely with its conscious 'neurons' - the 'boy 
scouts and girl scouts' of my story) we might begin to attribute 
consciousness; but probably we would always be divided in our 
opinions. If we came to be sure that the hydra-headed robots 
were conscious, then might we begin to be ever-so-slightly 
queasy about the United States? I do not know. 

The perspective I urge with respect to all of these cases is that 
there is nothing hidden here, no noumenal fact of the entities' 
really being conscious or really not being conscious, or of the 
qualities' really being the same or really being different. There 
are only the obvious empirical facts: that rocks and nations are 
grossly dissimilar from people and animals; that robots of var- 
ious kinds are in between sorts of objects; and so on. Rocks and 
nations aren't conscious; that is a fact about the notion of con- 
sciousness we actually have. 

What makes this line seem so disturbing is that it makes our 
standards of rational acceptability, justification and ultimately 
of truth, dependent on standards of similarity which are clearly 
the product of our biological and cultural heritage (e.g. whether 
we have or haven't interacted with 'intelligent robots'). But 
something like this is true of most of the language we use in 
everyday life, of such words as 'person', 'house', 'snow', and 
'brown', for example. A realist who accepted this resolution of 
the puzzles about qualia would be likely to express it by saying 
that 'qualia don't really exist', or that qualia belong to our 'sec- 
ond class conceptual system'; but what is the point of a notion 
of 'existence' that puts houses on the side of the non-existent? 
Our world is a human world, and what is conscious and not 
conscious, what has sensations and what doesn't, what is quali- 
tatively similar to what and what is dissimilar, are all dependent 
ultimately on our human judgments of likeness and difference. 

Two conceptions of rationality 

In the preceding chapters I have spoken of rationality and of 
'rational acceptability'. But rationality is not an easy thing to 
give an account of. 

The problem is not without analogues in other areas. Some 
years ago I studied the behavior of natural kind words, for 
example, gold, and I came to the conclusion that the extension 
of the term is not simply determined by a 'battery of semantical 
rules', or other institutionalized norms. The norms may deter- 
mine that certain objects arc paradigmatic examples of gold; but 
they do not determine the full extension of the term, nor is it 
impossible that even a paradigmatic example should turn out 
not to really be gold, as it would be if the norms simply defined 
what it is to be gold. 

We are prepared to count something as belonging to a kind 
even if our present tests do not suffice to show it is a member of 
the kind if it ever turns out that it has the same essential nature 
as (or, more vaguely, is 'sufficiently similar' to) the paradigmatic 
examples (or the great majority of them). What the essential 
nature is, or what counts as sufficient similarity, depends both 
on the natural kind and on the context (iced tea may be 'water' 
in one context but not in another); but for gold what counts is 
ultimate composition, since this has been thought since the 
ancient Greeks to determine the lawful behavior of the sub- 
stance. Unless we say that what the ancient Greeks meant by 
chrysos was whatever has the same essential nature as the para- 
digmatic examples, then neither their search for new methods of 


Two conceptions of rationality 

detecting counterfeit gold (which led Archimedes to the density 
test) nor their physical speculations will make sense. 

It is tempting to take the same line with rationality itself, and 
to say that what determines whether a belief is rational is not the 
norms of rationality of this or that culture, but an ideal theory 
of rationality, a theory which would give necessary and suffi- 
cient conditions for a belief to be rational in the relevant circum- 
stances in any possible world. Such a theory would have to 
account for the paradigmatic examples, as an ideal theory of 
gold accounts for the paradigmatic examples of gold; but it 
could go beyond them, and provide criteria which would enable 
us to understand cases we cannot presently see to the bottom of, 
as our present theory of gold enables us to understand cases the 
most brilliant ancient Greek could not have understood. A gen- 
eral difficulty with the proposal to treat 'rational', 'reasonable', 
'justified', etc., as natural kind terms is that the prospects for 
actually finding powerful generalizations about all rationally 
acceptable beliefs seem so poor. There are powerful universal 
laws obeyed by all instances of gold, which is what makes it 
possible to describe gold as the stuff that will turn out to obey 
these laws when we know them; but what are the chances that 
we can find powerful universal generalizations obeyed by all 
instances of rationally justified belief? 

That the chances are poor does not mean that there are no 
analogies between scientific inquiry into the nature of gold and 
moral inquiry or philosophical inquiry. In ethics, for example, 
we start with judgments that individual acts are right or wrong, 
('observation reports', so to speak) and we gradually formulate 
maxims (not exceptionless generalizations) based on those judg- 
ments, often accompanied by reasons or illustrative examples, as 
for instance 'Be kind to the stranger among you, because you 
know what it was like to be a stranger in Egypt' (a 'low level 
generalization'). These maxims in turn affect and alter our judg- 
ments about individual cases, so that new maxims supplement- 
ing or modifying the earlier ones may appear. After thousands 
of years of this dialectic between maxims and judgments about 
individual cases, a philosopher may come along and propose a 
moral conception (a 'theory'), which may alter both maxims and 
singular judgments and so on. 

The very same procedure may be found in all of philosophy 

Two conceptions of rationality 


(which is almost coextensive with theory of rationality). In a 
publication a few years 1 ago I described the desiderata for a 
moral system, following Grice and Baker, and I included (1) the 
desire that one's basic assumptions, at least, should have wide 
appeal; (2) the desire that one's system should be able to with- 
stand rational criticism; (3) the desire that the morality recom- 
mended should be livable. 

The way to develop a better understanding of the nature of 
rationality - the only way we know - is, likewise, to develop 
better philosophical conceptions of rationality. (An unending 
process; but that is as it should be.) It is striking that the desid- 
erata I listed for a moral system, unchanged, could be listed as 
the desiderata for a methodology or a system of rational proce- 
dure in any major area of human concern. In analytical philos- 
ophy the main attempts to better understand the nature of 
rationality in this way have come from philosophers of science, 
and two important tendencies have resulted from these efforts. 

Logical positivism 

In the past fifty years the clearest manifestation of the tendency 
to think of the methods of 'rational justification' as given by 
something like a list or canon (although one that philosophers of 
science have admittedly not yet succeeded in fully formalizing) 
was the movement known as Logical Positivism. Not only was 
the list or canon that the positivists hoped 'logicians of science' 
(their term for philosophers) would one day succeed in writing 
down supposed to exhaustively describe the 'scientific method'; 
but, since, according to the logical positivists, the 'scientific 
method' exhausts rationality itself, and testability by that 
method exhausts meaningfulness (The meaning of a sentence is 
its method of verification'), the list or canon would determine 
what is and what is not a cognitively meaningful statement. 
Statements testable by the methods in the list (the methods of 
mathematics, logic, and the empirical sciences) would count as 
meaningful; all other statements, the positivists maintained, are 
'pseudo-statements', or disguised nonsense. 

1 'Literature, Science, and Reflection', New Literary History, vol. VII, 
1975-6, reprinted in my Meaning and the Moral Sciences, Routledge 
and Kegan Paul, 1978. 


Two conceptions of rationality 

An obvious rejoinder was to say that the Logical Positivist 
criterion of significance was self-refuting: for the criterion itself 
is neither (a) 'analytic' (a term used by the positivists to account 
for logic and mathematics), nor (b) empirically testable. 
Strangely enough this criticism had very little impact on the log- 
ical positivists and did little to impede the growth of their move- 
ment. I believe that the neglect of this particular philosophical 
gambit was a great mistake; that the gambit is not only correct, 
but contains a deep lesson, and not just a lesson about Logical 

The point I am going to develop will depend on the following 
observation: the forms of 'verification' allowed by the logical 
positivists are forms which have been institutionalized by mod- 
ern society. What can be 'verified' in the positivist sense can be 
verified to be correct (in a non-philosophical or prephilosophical 
sense of 'correct'), or to be probably correct, or to be highly 
successful science, as the case may be; and the public recognition 
of the correctness, or the probable correctness, or the 'highly 
successful scientific theory' status, exemplifies, celebrates, and 
reinforces images of knowledge and norms of reasonableness 
maintained by our culture. 

On the face of it, the original positivist paradigm of verifica- 
tion was not this publicly institutionalized one. In Carnap's Der 
Logische Aufbau der Welt (The Logical Construction of the 
World) verification was ultimately private, based on sensations 
whose subjective quality or 'content' was said to be 'incommu- 
nicable'. But, under the urgings of Neurath, Carnap soon shifted 
to a more public, more 'intersubjective', conception of verifica- 

Popper has stressed the idea that scientific predictions are con- 
fronted with 'basic sentences', sentences such as 'the right pan of 
the balance is down' which are publicly accepted even if they 
cannot be 'proved' to the satisfaction of a sceptic. He has been 
criticized for using 'conventionalist' language here, for speaking 
as if it were a convention or social decision to accept a basic 
sentence; but I think that what sounds like a conventionalist ele- 
ment in Popper's thought is simply a recognition of the institu- 
tionalized nature of the implicit norms to which we appeal in 
ordinary perceptual judgments. The nature of our response to a 

Two conceptions of rationality 


sceptic who challenges us to 'prove' such statements as 'I am 
standing on the floor' testifies to the existence of social norms 
requiring agreement to such statements in the appropriate cir- 

Wittgenstein argued that without such public norms, norms 
shared by a group and constituting a 'form of life', language and 
even thought itself would be impossible. For Wittgenstein it is 
absurd to ask if the institutionalized verification I have been 
speaking of is 'really' justificatory. In On Certainty Wittgenstein 
remarks that philosophers can provide one with a hundred epis- 
temological 'justifications' of the statement 'cats don't grow on 
trees' - but none of them starts with anything which is more sure 
(in just this institutionalized sense of 'sure') than the fact that 
cats don't grow on trees. 

Sceptics have doubted not only perceptual judgments but 
ordinary inductions. Hume, whose distinction between what is 
rational and what is reasonable I am not observing, would have 
said there is no rational proof that it will snow (or even that it 
will probably snow) in the United States this winter (although he 
would have added that it would be most unreasonable to doubt 
that it will). Yet our response to a sceptic who challenges us to 
'prove' that it will snow in the United States this winter testifies 
that there are social norms requiring agreement to such 'induc- 
tions' just as much as to ordinary perceptual judgments about 
people standing on floors and about equal arm balances. 

When we come to high-level theories in the exact sciences, 
people's reactions are somewhat different. Ordinary people can- 
not 'verify' the special theory of relativity. Indeed, ordinary peo- 
ple do not at the present time even learn the special theory, or 
the (relatively elementary) mathematics needed to understand it, 
although it is beginning to be taught in freshman physics courses 
in some of our colleges. Ordinary people defer to scientists for 
an informed (and socially accepted) appraisal of a theory of this 
type. And because of the instability of scientific theories, a sci- 
entist is not likely to refer to even so successful a theory as spe- 
cial relativity as 'true' tout court. But the judgment of the scien- 
tific community is that special relativity is a 'successful' - in fact, 
like quantum electrodynamics, an unprecedentedly successful - 
scientific theory, which yields 'successful predictions' and which 


Two conceptions of rationality 

is 'supported by a vast number of experiments'. And these judg- 
ments are, in fact, deferred to by other members of the society. 
The difference between this case and the cases of institutional- 
ized norms of verification previously referred to (apart from the 
hedging of the adjective 'true') is the special role of experts and 
the institutionalized deference to experts that such a case 
involves; but this is no more than an instance of the division of 
intellectual labor (not to mention intellectual authority relations) 
in the society. The judgment that special relativity and quantum 
electrodynamics are 'the most successful physical theories we 
have' is one which is made by authorities which the society has 
appointed and whose authority is recognized by a host of prac- 
tices and ceremonies, and in that sense institutionalized. 

Recently it occurred to me that Wittgenstein may well have 
thought that only statements that can be verified in some such 
'institutionalized' way can be true (or right, or correct, or justi- 
fied) at all. I don't mean to suggest that any philosopher ever 
held the view that all things which count in our society as 'justi- 
fications' really are such. Philosophers generally distinguish 
between institutions which are constitutive of our concepts 
themselves and those which have some other status, although 
there is much controversy about how to make such a distinction. 
I mean to suggest that Wittgenstein thought that it was some 
subset of our institutionalized verification norms that determines 
what it is right to say in the various 'language games' we play 
and what is wrong, and that there is no objective lightness or 
wrongness beyond this. Although such an interpretation does fit 
much that Wittgenstein says - for instance, the stress on the 
need for 'agreement in our judgments' in order to have concepts 
at all - I do not feel sure that it is right. It is just too vague who 
the 'we' is in Wittgenstein's talk of 'our' judgments; and I don't 
know whether his 'forms of life' correspond to the institutional- 
ized norms I have mentioned. But this interpretation occurred to 
me upon reading Wittgenstein's Lectures and Conversations. In 
this Wittgenstein rejects both psychoanalysis and Darwin's the- 
ory of evolution (although unlike the positivists he does not 
regard such language as meaningless, and he has admiration for 
Freud's 'cleverness'). Wittgenstein's view about psychoanalysis 
(which he calls a 'myth') does not signify much, since so many 
people have the view - mistakenly in my opinion - that psycho- 

Two conceptions of rationality 


analysis is more or less nonsense. But his rejection of evolution 
is quite striking. 2 Wittgenstein contrasts Darwin's theory unfa- 
vorably with theories in physics ('One of the most important 
things about an explanation is that it should work, that it should 
enable us to predict something. Physics is connected with Engi- 
neering. The bridge must not fall down' (Lectures on Aesthetics, 
p. 25)). And he says people were persuaded 'on grounds which 
were extremely thin'. 'In the end you forget entirely every ques- 
tion of verification, you are just sure it must have been like that.' 
Again, the great discussions about 'analyticity' that went on 
in the 1950s seem to me to be connected with the desire of phi- 
losophers to find an objective, uncontroversial foundation for 
their arguments. 'Analyticity', i.e. the doctrine of truth by virtue 
of meaning alone, came under attack because it had been over- 
used by philosophers. But why had philosophers been tempted 
to announce that so many things which are in no intelligible 
sense 'rules of language', or consequences of rules of language, 
were analytic or 'conceptually necessary', or whatever? The 
answer, I think, is that the idea that there is a definite set of rules 
of language and that these can settle what is and is not rational, 
had two advantages, as philosophers thought: (1) the 'rules of 

2 Concerning evolution what Wittgenstein said was 'People were certain 
on grounds which were extremely thin. Couldn't there have been an 
attitude which said: "I don't know. It is an interesting hypothesis which 
may eventually be well confirmed" ', Lectures on Aesthetics, p. 26, in 
Cyril Burret (ed.) L. W. Wittgenstein: Lectures and Conversations, 
Berkeley, University of California Press, 1967. What it would be like for 
evolution to be 'well confirmed* Wittgenstein does not say, but the 
paragraph suggests that actually seeing speciation occur is what he has 
in mind ('Did anyone see this process happening? No. Has anyone 
seen it happening now? No. The evidence of breeding is just a drop in 
the bucket.') 

It is instructive to contrast Wittgenstein's attitude with Monod's: 

the selective theory of evolution, as Darwin himself had stated it, 
required the discovery of Mendelian genetics, which of course 
was made. This is an example, and a most important one, 
of what is meant by the content of a theory, the content of an 
idea ... [A] good theory or a good idea will be much wider and 
much richer than even the inventor of the idea may know at 
his time. The theory may be judged precisely on this type 
of development, when more and more falls into its lap, even 
though it was not predictable that so much would come of it { J. 
Monod, 'On the Molecular Theory of Evolution*, in Harre, 
R. (ed.), Problems of Scientific Revolution: Progress and 
Obstacles to Progress in the Sciences, Oxford, 1975). 


Two conceptions of rationality 

language' are constitutive institutionalized practices (or norms 
which underlie such practices), and as such have the 'public' sta- 
tus I have described; (2) at the same time, it was claimed that 
only philosophers (and not linguists) could discover these mys- 
terious things. It was a nice idea while it lasted, but it was bound 
to be exploded, and it was. 

I shall call any conception according to which there are insti- 
tutionalized norms which define what is and is not rationally 
acceptable a criterial conception of rationality. The logical posi- 
tivists, Wittgenstein, at least on the admittedly uncertain inter- 
pretation I have essayed, and some though not all of the 'ordi- 
nary language' philosophers 3 at Oxford shared a criterial 
conception of rationality even if they differed on other issues, 
such as whether to call unverifiable statements 'meaningless', 
and over whether or not some ethical propositions could be 
'conceptually necessary'. 

3 One might develop an 'ordinary language* philosophy which was not 
committed to the public and 'criterial' verification of philosophical 
theses if one could develop and support a conception in which the norms 
which govern linguistic practices are not themselves discoverable by 
ordinary empirical investigation. In Must We Mean What We 
Say, Stanley Cavell took a significant step in this direction, arguing that 
such norms can be known by a species of 'self knowledge* which he 
compared to the insight achieved through therapy and also to the 
transcendental knowledge sought by phenomenology. While I agree with 
Cavell that my knowledge as a native speaker that certain uses are 
deviant or non-deviant is not 'externar inductive knowledge - I 
can know without evidence that in my dialect of English one says 'mice' 
and not 'mouses* - I am inclined to think this fact of speaker's 
privileged access does not extend to generalizations about correctness 
and incorrectness. If I say (as Cavell does) that it is part of the rule 
for the correct use of locutions of the form X is voluntary that 
there should be something 'fishy* about X, then I am advancing a theory 
to explain my intuitions about specific cases, not just reporting those 
intuitions. It is true that something of this sort also goes on in 
psychotherapy; but I am not inclined to grant self-knowledge any kind 
of immunity from criticism by others, including criticisms which 
depend on offering rival explanations, in either case. And if one allows 
the legitimacy of such criticism, then the activity of discovering such 
norms begins to look like social science or history - areas in which, I 
have argued, traditional accounts of 'The Scientific Method* shed little 
light. (See my Meaning and the Moral Sciences, Routledge and 
Kegan Paul, 1978.) 

In any case, whatever their status, I see no reason to believe that the 
norms for the use of language are what decide the extension of 
'rationally acceptable*, 'justified', 'well confirmed', and the like. 

Two conceptions of rationality 


The gambit I referred to at the outset, the gambit that refutes 
the logical positivists' verification principle, is deep precisely 
because it refutes every attempt to argue for a criterial concep- 
tion of rationality, that is because it refutes the thesis that noth- 
ing is rationally verifiable unless it is criterially verifiable. 

The point is that although the philosophers I mentioned often 
spoke as if their arguments had the same kind of finality as a 
mathematical proof or a demonstration experiment in physics; 
that although the logical positivists called their work logic of 
science; although the Wittgensteinians displayed unbelievable 
arrogance towards philosophers who could not 'see' that all 
philosophical activity of a pre-Wittgensteinian or non-Wittgen- 
steinian kind is nonsensical; and although ordinary language 
philosophers referred to each other's arguments and those of 
non-ordinary language philosophers as 'howlers' (as if philo- 
sophical errors were like mistakes on an arithmetic test); no phil- 
osophical position of any importance can be verified in the con- 
clusive and culturally recognized way I have described. In short, 
if it is true that only statements that can be criterially verified 
can be rationally acceptable, that statement itself cannot be cri- 
terially verified, and hence cannot be rationally acceptable. If 
there is such a thing as rationality at all - and we commit our- 
selves to believing in some notion of rationality by engaging in 
the activities of speaking and arguing - then it is self- refuting to 
argue for the position that it is identical with or properly con- 
tained in what the institutionalized norms of the culture deter- 
mine to be instances of it. For no such argument can be certified 
to be correct, or even probably correct, by those norms alone. 

I don't at all think that rational argumentation and rational 
justification are impossible in philosophy, but rather I have been 
driven to recognize something which is probably evident to lay- 
men if not to philosophers, namely that we cannot appeal to 
public norms to decide what is and is not rationally argued and 
justified in philosophy. The claim which is still often heard that 
philosophy is 'conceptual analysis', that the concepts themselves 
determine what philosophical arguments are right, is, when 
combined with the doctrine that concepts are norms or rules 
underlying public linguistic practices, just a covert form of the 
claim that all rational justification in philosophy is criterial, and 
that philosophical truth is (barring 'howlers') as publicly demon- 


Two conceptions of rationality 

strable as scientific truth. Such a view seems to me to be simply 
unreasonable in the light of the whole history of the subject, 
including the recent history. 

What goes for philosophical argument goes for arguments 
about religion and about secular ideology as well. An argument 
between an intelligent liberal and an intelligent Marxist will 
have the same character as a philosophical dispute at the end, 
even if more empirical facts are relevant. And we all do have 
views in religion, or politics, or philosophy, and we all argue 
them and criticize the arguments of others. Indeed, even in 'sci- 
ence', outside of the exact sciences, we have arguments in his- 
tory, in sociology and in clinical psychology, of exactly this char- 
acter. It is true that the logical positivists broadened their 
description of the 'scientific method' to include these subjects; 
but so broadened it cannot be shown to clearly exclude anything 
whatsoever. (See Chapter 8.) 

The positivists, I will be reminded, conceded that the verifica- 
tion principle was 'cognitively meaningless'. They said it was a 
proposal and as such not true or false. But they argued for their 
proposal, and the arguments were (and had to be) non-starters. 4 
So the point stands. 

4 The weakest argument offered in defense of the Verification Principle 
construed as a proposal was that it 'explicated* the *pre-analytic' notion 
of meaningfulness. (For a discussion of this claim, see my 'How 
Not to Talk about Meaning*, in my Mind, Language and Reality, 
Philosophical Papers, Vol 2, Cambridge University Press, 1975.) 
Reichenbach defended a form of the Verification Principle (in Experience 
and Prediction) as preserving all differences in meaning relevant to 
behavior. Against an obvious objection (that the non-empirical belief in 
a divinity - Reichenbach used the example of Egyptian cat wor- 
shippers - could alter behavior) Reichenbach replied by proposing to 
translate 'Cats are divine animals' as 'cats inspire feelings of awe in 
cat-worshippers'. Clearly the acceptance of this substitute would 
not leave behavior unchanged in the case of a cat worshipper! 

The most interesting view was that of Carnap. According to Carnap, 
all rational reconstructions are proposals. The only factual questions 
concern the logical and empirical consequences of accepting this or that 
rational reconstruction. (Carnap compared the 'choice' of a rational 
reconstruction to the choice of an engine for an airplane.) The con- 
clusion he drew was that in philosophy one should be tolerant of 
divergent rational reconstructions. However, this principle of Tolerance, 
as Carnap called it, presupposes the Verification Principle. For the 
doctrine that no rational reconstruction is uniquely correct or corre- 
sponds to the way things 'really are', the doctrine that all 'external 
questions' are without cognitive sense is just the Verification Principle. 
To apply the Principle of Tolerance to the Verification Principle 
itself would be circular. 

Two conceptions of rationality 


In sum, what the logical positivists and Wittgenstein (and per- 
haps the later Quine as well) did was to produce philosophies 
which leave no room for a rational activity of philosophy. This 
is why these views are self-refuting; and also why the little gam- 
bit I have been discussing represents a significant argument of 
the kind philosophers call a 'transcendental argument': arguing 
about the nature of rationality (the task of the philosophers par 
excellence) is an activity that presupposes a notion of rational 
justification wider than the positivist notion, indeed wider than 
institutionalized criterial rationality. 

Anarchism is self-refuting 

Let me now discuss a very different philosophical tendency. 
Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions {SSR) 
enthralled vast numbers of readers, and appalled most philoso- 
phers of science because of its emphasis on what seemed to be 
irrational determinants of scientific theory acceptance and by 
its use of such terms as 'conversion' and 'Gestalt switch'. In fact, 
Kuhn made a number of important points about scientific theo- 
ries and about how scientific activity should be viewed. I have 
expressed a belief in the importance of the notions of paradigm, 
normal science, and scientific revolution elsewhere; at this point 
I want to focus on what I do not find sympathetic in Kuhn's 
book, what I described elsewhere as 'Kuhn's extreme relativism'. 

The reading that enthralled Kuhn's more sophomoric readers 
was one according to which he is saying that there is no such 
thing as rational justification in science, it's just Gestalt switches 
and conversions. Kuhn has rejected this interpretation of the 
SSR, and has since introduced a notion of 'non-paradigmatic 
rationality' which may be closely related to if not the same as 
what I just called 'non-criterial rationality'. 

The tendency that most readers thought they detected in 
Kuhn's SSR certainly manifested itself in Paul Feyerabend's 
Against Method, Feyerabend, like Kuhn, stressed the manner in 
which different cultures and historic epochs produce different 
paradigms of rationality. He suggests that the determinants of 
our conceptions of scientific rationality are largely what we 
would call irrational. In effect, although he does not put it this 
way, he suggests that the modern scientific-technological con- 


Two conceptions of rationality 

ception of rationality is fraudulent by its own standards. (I think 
I detect a similar strain in Michel Foucault.) And he goes far 
beyond Kuhn or Foucault in suggesting that even the vaunted 
instrumental superiority of our science may be somewhat of a 
hoax. Faith healers can do more to relieve your pain than doc- 
tors, Feyerabend claims. 

It is not those terrifyingly radical claims that I want to talk 
about, although they are the reason Feyerabend calls his position 
'anarchism'. I wish to discuss a claim Kuhn does make in both 
the SSR and subsequent papers, and that Feyerabend made both 
in Against Method and in technical papers. This is trie thesis of 
incommensurability. I want to say that this thesis, like the logical 
positivist thesis about meaning and verification, is a self-refuting 
thesis. In short, I want to claim that both of the two most influ- 
ential philosophies of science of the twentieth century, certainly 
the two that have interested scientists and non-philosophers gen- 
erally, the only two the educated general reader is likely to have 
even heard of, are self-refuting. Of course, as a philosopher of 
science I find it a bit troublesome that this should be the case. 
We shall shortly come to the question of what to make of this 

The incommensurability thesis is the thesis that terms used 
in another culture, say, the term 'temperature' as used by a 
seventeenth-century scientist, cannot be equated in meaning or 
reference with any terms or expressions we possess. As Kuhn 
puts it, scientists with different paradigms inhabit 'different 
worlds'. 'Electron' as used around 1900 referred to objects 
in one 'world'; as used today it refers to objects in quite a 
different 'world'. This thesis is supposed to apply to observa- 
tional language as well as to so-called 'theoretical language'; 
indeed, according to Feyerabend, ordinary language is simply a 
false theory. 

The rejoinder this time is that if this thesis were really true 
then we could not translate other languages - or even past stages 
of our own language - at all/ And if we cannot interpret orga- 
nisms' noises at all, then we have no grounds for regarding them 
as thinkers, speakers, or even persons. In short, if Feyerabend 
(and Kuhn at his most incommensurable) were right, then mem- 
bers of other cultures, including seventeenth-century scientists, 
would be conceptualizable by us only as animals producing 

Two conceptions of rationality 


responses to stimuli (including noises that curiously resemble 
English or Italian). To tell us that Galileo had 'incommensura- 
ble' notions and then to go on to describe them at length is 
totally incoherent. 

This problem is posed in a sympathetic essay on Feyerabend's 
view by Smart: 5 

Surely it is a neutral fact that in order to see Mercury 
we have to point the telescope over the top of that 
tree, say, and not, as predicted by Newtonian theory, 
over the top of that chimney pot. And surely one can 
talk of trees, chimney pots, and telescopes in a way 
which is independent of the choice between Newton- 
ian and Einsteinian theory. However Feyerabend could 
well concede that we use Euclidean geometry and non- 
relativistic optics for the theory of our telescope. He 
would say that this is not the real truth about our tele- 
scope, the tree, and the chimney pot, but nevertheless 
it is legitimate to think in this way in order to discuss 
the observational tests of general relativity, since we know 
on theoretical grounds that our predictions will be un- 
affected (up to the limits of observational error) if we 
avail ourselves of this computational convenience. 

But the trouble with Smart's rescue move is that I must under- 
stand some of the Euclidean non-relativists' language to even say 
the 'predictions' are the same. If every word has a different sig- 
nificance, in what sense can any prediction be 'unaffected'? How 
can I even translate the logical particles (the words for 'if-then', 
'not', and so on) in seventeenth-century Italian, or whatever, if 
I cannot find a translation manual connecting seventeenth- 
century Italian and modern English that makes some kind of sys- 
tematic sense of the seventeenth-century corpus, both in itself 
and in its extra-linguistic setting? Even if I am the speaker who 
employs both theories (as Smart envisages) how can I be justified 

5 J. J. C. Smart, 'Conflicting Views about Explanation*, in R. Cohen and 
M. Wartofsky (eds.), Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 
Volume II: in Honor of Philipp Frank (New York, Humanities Press, 
Inc., 1965). 


Two conceptions of rationality 

in equating any word in my Newtonian theory with any word in 
my general relativistic theory? 

The point I am making comes into even sharper focus when 
we apply to it some of Quine's and Davidson's observations 
about meaning and translation practice. Once it is conceded that 
we can find a translation scheme which 'works' in the case of a 
seventeenth century text, at least in the context fixed by our 
interests and the use to which the translation will be put, what 
sense does it have in that context to say that the translation does 
not 'really' capture the sense or reference of the original? It is 
not, after all, as if we had or were likely to have criteria for 
sameness of sense or reference apart from our translation 
schemes and our explicit or implicit requirements for their 
empirical adequacy. One can understand the assertion that a 
translation fails to capture exactly the sense or reference of the 
original as an admission that a better translation scheme might 
be found; but it makes only an illusion of sense to say that all 
possible translation schemes fail to capture the 'real' sense or 
reference. Synonymy exists only as a relation, or better, as a fam- 
ily of relations, each of them somewhat vague, which we employ 
to equate different expressions for the purposes of interpreta- 
tion. The idea that there is some such thing as 'real' synonymy 
apart from all workable practices of mutual interpretation, has 
been discarded as a myth. 

Suppose someone tells us that the German word 'Rad' can be 
translated as 'wheel'. If he goes on to say his translation is not 
perfect, we naturally expect him to indicate how it might be 
improved, supplemented by a gloss, or whatever. But if he goes 
on to say that 'Rad' can be translated as 'wheel', but it doesn't 
actually refer to wheels, or indeed to any objects recognized in 
your conceptual system, what do we get from this? To say that 
a word A can be translated as 'wheel', or whatever, is to say 
that, to the extent that the translation can be relied upon, A 
refers to wheels. 

Perhaps the reason that the incommensurability thesis 
intrigues people so much, apart from the appeal which all inco- 
herent ideas seem to have, is the tendency to confuse or conflate 
concept and conception. To the extent that the analytic/synthetic 
distinction is fuzzy, this distinction too is fuzzy; but all interpre- 
tation involves such a distinction, even if it is relative to the inter- 

Two conceptions of rationality 


pretation itself. When we translate a word as, say, temperature 
we equate the reference and, to the extent that we stick to our 
translation, the sense of the translated expression with that of 
our own term 'temperature', at least as we use it in that context. 
(Of course, there are various devices we can use, such as special 
glosses, to delimit or delineate the way we are employing 'tem- 
perature', or whatever the word may be, in the context.) In this 
sense we equate the 'concept' in question with our own 'concept' 
of temperature. But so doing is compatible with the fact that the 
seventeenth-century scientists, or whoever, may have had a dif- 
ferent conception of temperature, that is a different set of beliefs 
about it and its nature than we do, different 'images of knowl- 
edge', and different ultimate beliefs about many other matters as 
well. That conceptions differ does not prove the impossibility of 
ever translating anyone 'really correctly' as is sometimes sup- 
posed; on the contrary, we could not say that conceptions differ 
and how they differ if we couldn't translate. 

But, it may be asked, how do we ever know that a translation 
scheme 'works' if conceptions always turn out to be different? 
The answer to this question, as given by various thinkers from 
Vico down to the present day, is that interpretative success does 
not require that the translatees' beliefs come out the same as our 
own, but it does require that they come out intelligible to us. 
This is the basis of all the various maxims of interpretative char- 
ity or 'benefit of the doubt', such as 'interpret them so they come 
out believers of truths and lovers of the good', or 'interpret them 
so that their beliefs come out reasonable in the light of what they 
have been taught and have experienced', or Vico's own directive 
to maximize the humanity of the person being interpreted. It is 
a constitutive fact about human experience in a world of differ- 
ent cultures interacting in history while individually undergoing 
slower or more rapid change that we are, as a matter of universal 
human experience, able to do this; able to interpret one 
another's beliefs, desires, and utterances so that it all makes 
some kind of sense. 

Kuhn and Feyerabend, not surprisingly, reject any idea of con- 
vergence in scientific knowledge. Since we are not talking about 
the same things as previous scientists, we are not getting more 
and more knowledge about the same microscopic or macro- 
scopic objects. Kuhn argues that science 'progresses' only instru- 


Two conceptions of rationality 

mentally; we get better and better able to transport people from 
one place to another, and so on. But this too is incoherent. 
Unless such locutions as 'transport people from one place to 
another* retain some degree of fixity of reference, how can we 
understand the notion of instrumental success in any stable way? 

The argument I have just employed is essentially related to 
Kant's celebrated arguments about preconditions for empirical 
knowledge. Replying to the contention that the future might be 
wholly lawless, might defeat every 'induction* we have made, 
Kant pointed out that if there is any future at all - any future for 
us, at any rate, any future we can grasp as thinkers and concep- 
tualize to say if our predictions were true or false - then, in fact, 
many regularities must not have been violated. Else why call it a 
future? For example, when we imagine balls coming from an urn 
in some 'irregular' order, we forget that we couldn't even tell 
they were balls, or tell what order they came out in, without 
depending on many regularities. Comparison presupposes there 
are some commensurabilities. 

There is a move Kuhn and Feyerabend could make in reply to 
all these criticisms, but it is not one they would feel happy mak- 
ing, and that would be to introduce some kind of observa- 
tional/theoretical dichotomy. They could concede commensura- 
bility, translatability, and even convergence with respect to 
observational facts, and restrict the incommensurability thesis to 
the theoretical vocabulary. Even then there would be problems 
(why shouldn't we describe the meanings of the theoretical terms 
via their relations to the observational vocabulary a la Ramsey?) 
But Kuhn and Feyerabend reject this alternative with reason, for 
in fact the need for principles of interpretative charity is just as 
pervasive in 'observational language' as in 'theoretical language'. 
Consider, for example, the common word 'grass'. Different 
speakers, depending on where and when they live have different 
perceptual prototypes of grass (grass has different colors and dif- 
ferent shapes in different places) and different conceptions of 
grass. Even if all speakers must know that grass is a plant, on 
pain of being said to have a different concept altogether, the 
conception of a plant today involves photosynthesis and the con- 
ception of a plant two hundred years ago did not. Without inter- 
pretative charity which directs us to equate 'plant' 200 years ago 
with 'plant' today (at least in ordinary contexts) and 'grass' 200 

Two conceptions of rationality 


years ago with 'grass' today, no statement about the reference of 
this word 200 years ago could be made. Nor is it only natural 
kind words that are so dependent for interpretation on principles 
of charity; the artifact word 'bread' would pose exactly the same 
problems. Indeed, without interpretative charity we could not 
equate a simple color term such as 'red' across different speak- 
ers. We interpret discourse always as a whole; and the interpre- 
tation of 'observation' terms is as dependent on the interpreta- 
tion of 'theoretical' terms as is the interpretation of the latter on 
the former. 

What I have given is, once again, a transcendental argument. 
We are committed by our fundamental conceptions to treating 
not just our present time-slices, but also our past selves, our 
ancestors, and members of other cultures past and present, as 
persons; and that means, I have argued, attributing to them 
shared references and shared concepts, however different the 
conceptions that we also attribute. Not only do we share objects 
and concepts with others, to the extent that the interpretative 
exercise succeeds, but also conceptions of the reasonable, of the 
natural, and so on. For the whole justification of an interpreta- 
tive scheme, remember, is that it renders the behavior of others 
at least minimally reasonable by our lights. However different 
our images of knowledge and conceptions of rationality, we 
share a huge fund of assumptions and beliefs about what is rea- 
sonable with even the most bizarre culture we can succeed in 
interpreting at all. 

Why relativism is inconsistent 

That (total) relativism is inconsistent is a truism among philos- 
ophers. After all, is it not obviously contradictory to hold a point 
of view while at the same time holding that no point of view is 
more justified or right than any other? Alan Garfinkel has put 
the point very wittily. In talking to his California students he 
once said, aping their locutions: 'You may not be coming from 
where I'm coming from, but I know relativism isn't true for me 9 
... If any point of view is as good as any other, then why isn't 
the point of view that relativism is false as good as any other? 
The plethora of relativistic doctrines being marketed today 
(and marketed by highly intelligent thinkers) indicates this sim- 


Two conceptions of rationality 

pie refutation will not suffice. Why should an intelligent relativ- 
ist concede that every view is as true {for him) as any other? He 
cannot prevent you (or Alan Garfinkel) from saying that his view 
is not true for you (or justified for you, or whatever): but if he 
has his wits about him, he can retort that truth for you is far less 
salient (for him) than is truth for him. What concept of anything 
is more salient than one's own, after all? Is it then really incon- 
sistent to treat true, justified, etc., as relative notions? 

The answer is that it is inconsistent but it does require a more 
elaborate argument than the (nonetheless very nice) one-liner 
produced by Garfinkel. The important point to notice is that if 
all is relative, then the relative is relative too. But this takes a bit 
of explaining! 

Plato was perhaps the first to employ the sort of argument I 
have in mind (against Protagoras). Protagoras (a deep-dyed rel- 
ativist, apparently) claimed that when I say X, I really should say 
'I think that X\ Thus when I say 'Snow is white', Protagoras 
would say that I really mean that Hilary Putnam thinks that 
snow is white, and that what Robert Nozick means by the same 
utterance is that Robert Nozick thinks that snow is white. A 
more sophisticated statement of the same idea would be that 
when I say 'Snow is white', I am using this utterance to claim 
that snow is white is true-for-me, whereas when Robert Nozick 
says the same words he would normally be claiming that snow 
is white is true-for-A/w (or at least he would count his statement 
as having been correct just in case it turned out to be true-for- 
him). It follows (on Protagoras' view) that no utterance has the 
same meaning for me and for anyone else; there is, as we saw 
before, an intimate connection between relativism and incom- 
mensurability. Plato's counter-argument was that, if every state- 
ment X means 'I think that X', then I should (on Protagoras' 
view) really say 

(1) I think that I think that snow is white. 

But the process of adding 'I think' can always be iterated! On 
Protagoras' view, the ultimate meaning of 'Snow is white' is then 
not (1) but 

(2) I think that I think that I think that I . . . (with 
infinitely many 'I thinks') that snow is white. 

Two conceptions of rationality 


This Plato took to be a reductio ad absurdum. However, 
Plato's argument is not a good one as it stands. Why should 
Protagoras not agree that his analysis applies to itself? It doesn't 
follow that it must be self-applied an infinite number of times, 
but only that it can be self-applied any finite number of times. 
But Plato had noticed something very deep. 

When one first encounters relativism, the idea seems simple 
enough. The idea, in a natural first formulation is that every per- 
son (or, in a modern 'sociological' formulation, every culture, or 
sometimes every 'discourse') has his (its) own views, standards, 
presuppositions, and that truth (and also justification) are rela- 
tive to these. One takes it for granted, of course, that whether X 
is true (or justified) relative to these is itself something 'absolute'. 

Modern Structuralists like Foucault write as if justification rel- 
ative to a discourse is itself quite absolute - i.e. not at all relative. 
But if statements of the form f X is true ( justified) relative to per- 
son P' are themselves true or false absolutely, then there is, after 
all, an absolute notion of truth (or of justification) and not only 
of truth-for-me, truth-for-Nozick, truth-for-you, etc. A total rel- 
ativist would have to say that whether or not X is true relative 
to P is itself relative. At this point our grasp on what the position 
even means begins to wobble, as Plato observed. 

Plato's line of attack on relativism does not seem to have been 
followed up until recently. But it was brilliantly extended by 
Wittgenstein in, of all places, the Private Language Argument 
(alluded to in Chapter 3). 

Most commentators read the Private Language Argument as 
simply an argument against the 'copy theory' of truth. And Witt- 
genstein's brilliant demonstration that the similitude theory of 
reference does not work even for reference to sensations is cer- 
tainly part of a sustained attack on metaphysical realism. But I 
prefer to read the argument as a pair of quite traditional argu- 
ments (at least Kant would have approved of both of them!) 
against two positions, one a realist position and one a relativist 
position: for the attempt to read the whole argument as an anti- 
realist one makes it come out looking rather contrived. 

The form of relativism Wittgenstein was concerned to attack 
is known as 'methodological solipsism'. A 'methodological 
solipsist' is a non-realist or 'verificationist' who agrees that truth 
is to be understood as in some way related to rational accept- 


Two conceptions of rationality 

ability, but who holds that all justification is ultimately in terms 
of experiences that each of us has a private knowledge of. Thus, 
I have my knowledge of what experiences of mine would verify 
that snow is white and Bob Nozick has his knowledge of what 
experiences of his would verify that snow is white: every state- 
ment has a different sense for every thinker. 

Wittgenstein's argument seems to me to be an excellent argu- 
ment against relativism in general. The argument is that the rel- 
ativist cannot, in the end, make any sense of the distinction 
between being right and thinking he is right; and that means that 
there is, in the end, no difference between asserting or thinking, 
on the one hand, and making noises (or producing mental 
images) on the other. But this means that (on this conception) I 
am not a thinker at all but a mere animal. To hold such a view 
is to commit a sort of mental suicide. 

To see that Wittgenstein was right, let us consider, as Wittgen- 
stein does not, how the relativist might attempt to draw the dis- 
tinction that Wittgenstein denies him, the distinction between 
being right and thinking he is right. 

The relativist might borrow the idea that truth is an idealiza- 
tion of rational acceptability. He might hold that X is true-for- 
me if 'X is justified-for-me' would be true provided I observed 
carefully enough, reasoned long enough, or whatever. But sub- 
junctive conditionals of the form 'If I were to ... , then I would 
think such-and-such', are, like all statements, interpreted differ- 
ently by different philosophers. 

A metaphysical realist can regard statements about what 
would be the case if as themselves true or false in an absolute 
sense, independently of whether we ever will be justified in 
accepting or rejecting them. If the relativist interprets statements 
about what he would believe under such-and-such conditions in 
this realist way, then he has recognized one class of absolute 
truths, and so has given up being a relativist. 

A non-realist or 'internal' realist regards conditional state- 
ments as statements which we understand (like all other state- 
ments) in large part by grasping their justification conditions. 
This does not mean that the 'internal* realist abandons the dis- 
tinction between truth and justification, but that truth (idealized 
justification) is something we grasp as we grasp any other con- 
cept, via a (largely implicit) understanding of the factors that 

Two conceptions of rationality 


make it rationally acceptable to say that something is true. Can 
the relativist interpret statements about what he would believe 
under ideal conditions in this non-realist or 'internal' realist 

Let us recall that the non-realist position, as I described it 
(in Chapter 3), assumes an objective notion of rational accepta- 
bility. The non-realist rejects the notion that truth is corres- 
pondence to a 'ready-made world'. That is what makes him a 
«ow-(metaphysical)-realist. But rejecting the metaphysical 'cor- 
respondence' theory of truth is not at all the same thing as regard- 
ing truth or rational acceptability as subjective. Nelson Good- 
man, who regards truth and rational acceptability as species of 
a more general predicate 'rightness', applicable to works of art 
as well as to statements, has put the point succinctly: 

Briefly, then, truth of statements and rightness of descrip- 
tions, representations, exemplifications, expressions - of 
design, drawing, diction, rhythm - is primarily a matter of 
fit: fit to what is referred to in one way or another, or to 
other renderings, or to modes and manners of organiza- 
tion. The differences between fitting a version to a world, 
a world to a version, and a version together or to other 
versions fade when the role of versions in making the 
worlds they fit is recognized. And knowing or under- 
standing is seen as ranging beyond the acquiring of true 
beliefs to the discovering and devising of fit of all sorts. 

The whole purpose of relativism, its very defining characteristic, 
is, however, to deny the existence of any intelligible notion of 
objective 'fit'. Thus the relativist cannot understand talk about 
truth in terms of objective justification-conditions. 

The attempt to use conditionals to explicate the distinction 
between being right and thinking one is right fails, then, because 
the relativist has no objective notion of rightness for these con- 
ditionals any more than he does for any other sort of statement. 

Finally, if the relativist of today, like the ancient Protagoras, 
simply decides to bite the bullet and say that there is no differ- 
ence between 'I am right' and 'I think I am right' - that a dis- 
tinction between being justified and thinking one is justified can- 
not be drawn in one's own case - then what is speaking, on such 
a conception - beyond producing noises in the hope that one 


Two conceptions of rationality 

will have the feeling of being right? What is thinking - beyond 
producing images and sentence-analogues in the mind in the 
hope of having a subjective feeling of being right? The relativist 
must end by denying that any thought is about anything in either 
a realist or non-realist sense; for he cannot distinguish between 
thinking one's thought is about something and actually thinking 
about that thing. In short, what the relativist fails to see is that 
it is a presupposition of thought itself that some kind of objective 
'rightness' exists. 

There is an interesting relation between the argument I just 
analyzed (Plato- Wittgenstein) and the argument against incom- 
mensurability I attributed to Quine and Davidson: Quine and 
Davidson argue, in effect, that a consistent relativist should not 
treat others as speakers (or thinkers) at all (if their 'noises' are 
that 'incommensurable', then they are just noises), while Plato 
and Wittgenstein argue, in effect, that a consistent relativist can- 
not treat himself as a speaker or thinker. 

What to make of this? 

The arguments I just set before you convinced me that the two 
most widely known philosophies of science produced in this cen- 
tury are both incoherent. (Of course, neither of them is just a 
'philosophy of science'.) This naturally led me to reflect on the 
meaning of this situation. How did such views arise? 

Logical positivism, I recalled, was both continuous with and 
different from the Machian positivism which preceded it. 
Mach's positivism, or 'empirio-criticism', was, in fact, largely a 
restatement of Humean empiricism in a different jargon. Mach's 
brilliance, his dogmatic and enthusiastic style, and his scientific 
eminence made his positivism a large cultural issue (Lenin, afraid 
that the Bolsheviks would be converted to 'empirio-criticism', 
wrote a polemic against it). Einstein, whose interpretation of 
special relativity was operationalist in spirit (in marked contrast 
to the interpretation he gave to general relativity), acknowledged 
that his criticism of the notion of simultaneity Owed much to 
Hume and to Mach, although, to his disappointment, Mach 
totally rejected special relativity. 

But the most striking event that led up to the appearance of 
logical positivism was the revolution in deductive logic. By 1879 
Frege had discovered an algorithm, a mechanical proof proce- 

Two conceptions of rationality 


dure, that embraces what is today standard 'second order logic'. 
The procedure is complete for the elementary theory of deduc- 
tion ('first order logic'). The fact that one can write down an 
algorithm for proving all of the valid formulas of first order 
logic -an algorithm which requires no significant analysis and 
simulation of full human psychology- is a remarkable fact. It 
inspired the hope that one might do the same for so called 
'inductive logic' - that the 'scientific method' might turn out to 
be an algorithm, and that these two algorithms - the algorithm 
for deductive logic (which, of course, turned out to be incom- 
plete when extended to higher logic) and the algorithm-to-be- 
discovered for inductive logic - might exhaustively describe or 
'rationally reconstruct' not just scientific rationality, but all 
rationality worthy of the name. 

When I was just starting my teaching career at Princeton Uni- 
versity I got to know Rudolph Carnap, who was spending two 
years at the Institute for Advanced Studies. One memorable 
afternoon, Carnap described to me how he had come to be a 
philosopher. Carnap explained to me that he had been a gradu- 
ate student in physics, studying logic in Frege's seminar. The text 
was Principia Mathematica (imagine studying Russell and 
Whitehead's Principia with Frege!) Carnap was fascinated with 
symbolic logic and equally fascinated with the special theory of 
relativity. So he decided to make his thesis a formalization of 
special relativity in the notation of Principia. It was because the 
Physics Department at Jena would not accept this that Carnap 
became a philosopher, he told me. 

Today, a host of negative results, including some powerful 
considerations due to Nelson Goodman, have indicated that 
there cannot be a completely formal inductive logic. Some 
important aspects of inductive logic can be formalized (although 
the adequacy of the formalization is controversial), but there is 
always a need for judgments of 'reasonableness', whether these 
are built in via the choice of vocabulary (or, more precisely, the 
division of the vocabulary into 'projectible' predicates and 'non- 
projectible' predicates) or however. Today, virtually no one 
believes that there is a purely formal scientific method (on this, 
see Chapter 8). 

The story Carnap told me supports the idea that it was the 
sucess of formalization in the special case of deductive logic that 
played a crucial role. If that success inspired the rise of logical 


Two conceptions of rationality 

positivism, could it not have been the failure to formalize induc- 
tive logic, the discovery that there is no algorithm for empirical 
science, that inspired the rise of 'anarchism'? 

I won't press this suggestion; in any case, additional factors 
are probably at work. While Kuhn has increasingly moderated 
his view, both Feyerabend and Michel Foucault have tended to 
push it to extremes. There is something political in their minds: 
both Feyerabend and Foucault link our present institutionalized 
criteria of rationality with capitalism, exploitation, and even 
with sexual repression. Clearly there are many divergent reasons 
why people are attracted to extreme relativism today, the idea 
that all existing institutions and traditions are bad being one of 

Another reason is a certain scientism. The scientistic character 
of logical positivism is quite overt and unashamed; but I think 
there is also a scientism hidden behind relativism. The theory 
that all there is to 'rationality' is what your local culture says 
there is is never quite embraced by any of the 'anarchistic' think- 
ers, but it is the natural limit of their tendency: and this is a 
reductionist theory. That rationality is defined by an ideal com- 
puter program is a scientistic theory inspired by the exact sci- 
ences; that it is simply defined by the local cultural norms is a 
scientistic theory inspired by anthropology. 

I will not discuss here the expectation aroused in some by 
Chomskian linguistics that cognitive psychology will discover 
innate algorithms which define rationality. I myself think that 
this is an intellectual fashion which will be disappointed as the 
logical positivist hope for a symbolic inductive logic was disap- 

All this suggests that part of the problem with present day 
philosophy is a scientism inherited from the nineteenth century - 
a problem that affects more than one intellectual field. I do not 
deny that logic is important, or that formal studies in confirma- 
tion theory, in semantics of natural language, and so on are 
important. I do tend to think that they are rather peripheral to 
philosophy, and that as long as we are too much in the grip of 
formalization we can expect this kind of swinging back and 
forth between the two sorts of scientism I described. Both sorts 
of scientism are attempts to evade the issue of giving a sane and 
human description of the scope of reason. 

Fact and value 

Understood in a sufficiently wide sense, the topic of fact and 
value is a topic which is of concern to everyone. In this respect, 
it differs sharply from many philosophical questions. Most edu- 
cated men and women do not feel it obligatory to have an opin- 
ion on the question whether there really is a real world or only 
appears to be one, for example. Questions in philosophy of lan- 
guage, epistemology, and even in metaphysics may appear to be 
questions which, however interesting, are somewhat optional 
from the point of view of most people's lives. But the question 
of fact and value is a forced choice question. Any reflective per- 
son has to have a real opinion upon it (which may or may not 
be the same as their notional opinion). If the question of fact and 
value is a forced choice question for reflective people, one partic- 
ular answer to that question, the answer that fact and value are 
totally disjoint realms, that the dichotomy 'statement of fact or 
value judgment' is an absolute one, has assumed the status of a 
cultural institution. 

By calling the dichotomy a cultural institution, I mean to sug- 
gest that it is an unfortunate fact that the received answer will 
go on being the received answer for quite some time regardless 
of what philosophers may say about it, and regardless of 
whether or not the received answer is right. Even if I could con- 
vince you that the fact-value dichotomy is without rational 
basis, that it is a rationally indefensible dichotomy, or even if 
some better philosopher than I could show this by an absolutely 
conclusive argument (of course there are no such in philosophy), 
still the next time you went out into the street, or to a cocktail 


Fact and value 

party, or had a discussion at some deliberative body of which 
you happen to be a member, you would find someone saying to 
you, 'Is that supposed to be a statement of fact or a value judg- 
ment?' The view that there is no fact of the matter as to whether 
or not things are good or bad or better or worse, etc. has, in a 
sense, become institutionalized. 

The strategy of my argument is not going to be a new one. I'm 
going to rehabilitate a somewhat discredited move in the debate 
about fact and value, namely the move that consists in arguing 
that the distinction is at the very least hopelessly fuzzy because 
factual statements themselves, and the practices of scientific 
inquiry upon which we rely to decide what is and what is not a 
fact, presuppose values. 

The reason this is a somewhat discredited move is that there is 
an obvious rejoinder to it. The rejoinder to the view that science 
presupposes values is a protective concession. The defenders of 
the fact— value dichotomy concede that science does presuppose 
some values, for example, science presupposes that we want 
truth, but argue that these values are not ethical values. I shall 
imagine a somewhat strawman opponent who takes the view 
that science presupposes one value, namely the value of truth 

As we have seen, truth is not a simple notion. The idea that 
truth is a passive copy of what is 'really' (mind-independently, 
discourse-independently) 'there' has collapsed under the cri- 
tiques of Kant, Wittgenstein, and other philosophers even if it 
continues to have a deep hold on our thinking. 

Some philosophers have appealed to the equivalence principle, 
that is the principle that to say of a statement that it is true is 
equivalent to asserting the statement, to argue that there are no 
real philosophical problems about truth. Others appeal to the 
work of Alfred Tarski, the logician who showed how, given a 
formalized language (a formal notation for expressing certain 
statements, employing symbolic logic), one can define 'true' for 
that language in a stronger language (a so-called 'meta- 
language'). 1 

Tarski's work was itself based on the equivalence principle: in 

1 For a non-technical account of Tarski's work see my Meaning and the 
Moral Sciences, Part I, Lecture I. 

Fact and value 


fact his criterion for a successful definition of 'true' was that it 
should yield all sentences of the form T* is true if and only if P, 

(T) 'Snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white 

as theorems of the meta-language (where P is a sentence of the 
formal notation in question). 

But the equivalence principle is philosophically neutral, and so 
is Tarski's work. On any theory of truth, 'Snow is white' is 
equivalent to ' "Snow is white" is true.' 

Positivist philosophers would reply that if you know (T) 
above, you know what " 'Snow is white" is true' means: it 
means snow is white. And if you don't understand 'snow' and 
'white', they would add, you are in trouble indeed! But the prob- 
lem is not that we don't understand 'Snow is white'; the problem 
is that we don't understand what it is to understand 'Snow is 
white.' This is the philosophical problem. About this (T) says 

And indeed does this not accord with our intuitions about 
these matters? If someone approaches us with a gleam in his eye 
and says, 'Don't you want to know the "Truth"?', our reaction 
is generally to be pretty leery of this person. And the reason that 
we are leery (apart from the gleam in the eye) is precisely because 
someone's telling us that they want us to know the truth tells us 
really nothing as long as we have no idea what standards of 
rational acceptability the person adheres to: what they consider 
a rational way to pursue an inquiry, what their standards of 
objectivity are, when they consider it rational to terminate an 
inquiry, what grounds they will regard as providing good reason 
for accepting one verdict or another on whatever sort of ques- 
tion they may be interested in. Applied to the case of science, I 
would say that to tell us that science 'seeks to discover the truth' 
is really a purely formal statement. It is to say no more than that 
scientists don't want to assert that snow is white if snow is not 
white, that they don't want to assert that there are electrons 
flowing through a wire if electrons are not flowing through the 
wire, and so on. But these purely formal statements are quite 
empty as long as we don't have some idea what the system of 
criteria of rational acceptability is which distinguishes scientific 
ways of attempting to determine whether snow is white from 


Fact and value 

other ways of attempting to determine whether snow is white, 
scientific ways of attempting to determine whether electrons are 
flowing through a wire from other ways of attempting to deter- 
mine whether there are electrons flowing through a wire, and so 

If the notion of comparing our system of beliefs with uncon- 
ceptualized reality to see if they match makes no sense, then the 
claim that science seeks to discover the truth can mean no more 
than that science seeks to construct a world picture which, in the 
ideal limit, satisfies certain criteria of rational acceptability. That 
science seeks to construct a world picture which is true is itself a 
true statement, an almost empty and formal true statement; the 
aims of science are given material content only by the criteria of 
rational acceptability implicit in science. In short I am saying 
that the answer to the 'strawman' position I considered, that the 
only aim of science is to discover truth (besides pointing out that 
science has additional aims, which is of course true), is that truth 
is not the bottom line: truth itself gets its life from our criteria of 
rational acceptability, and these are what we must look at if we 
wish to discover the values which are really implicit in science. 

For the purpose of an example let me now imagine an extreme 
case of disagreement. The disagreement I'm going to imagine is 
not an ordinary scientific disagreement, although I hope our 
response to it will enable us to discover something about the 
nature of scientific values. 

The hypothesis that the disagreement is going to be about, in 
the case I am about to describe, is just the hypothesis we dis- 
cussed in Chapter 1, the hypothesis that we are all Brains in a 
Vat. We have argued that this hypothesis cannot possibly be 
true; but we shall suppose that our arguments have failed to 
convince one side in this disagreement (which is not improbable, 
since philosophical arguments never convince everyone). In 
short, the hypothesis is that everything is a collective hallucina- 
tion in the way we described before. 

Of course, if it were all one collective hallucination in this 
way, there are many people to whom this need not make any 
difference. It would make little or no difference to lovers, for 
example. 2 And I imagine it would make no difference at all to 

2 But I keep changing my mind about whether it would or not. 

Fact and value 


economists. (Why should an economist care if all the money in 
the world isn't physically real? Most of it isn't physically real on 
any theory!) 

I want the reader to imagine that this crazy (and, I would 
claim, incoherent) theory, the theory that we are all brains in a 
vat, is held not by an isolated lunatic, but by virtually all the 
people in some large country, say, Australia. Imagine that in 
Australia only a small minority of the people believe what we do 
and the great majority believe that we are Brains in a Vat. Per- 
haps the Australians believe this because they are all disciples of 
a Guru, the Guru of Sydney, perhaps. Perhaps when we talk to 
them they say, 'Oh if you could talk to the Guru of Sydney and 
look into his eyes and see what a good, kind, wise man he is, you 
too would be convinced.' And if we ask, 'But how does the Guru 
of Sydney know that we are brains in a vat, if the illusion is as 
perfect as you say?', they might reply, 'Oh, the Guru of Sydney 
just knows/ 

As I said before, this is not a scientific disagreement in the 
ordinary sense. We can imagine that the Australians are just as 
good as we are at anticipating experiences, at building bridges 
that stay up (or seem to stay up), etc. They may even be willing 
to accept our latest scientific discoveries, not as true, but as cor- 
rect descriptions of what seems to go on in the image. We may 
or may not imagine that they disagree with us about some pre- 
dictions concerning the very distant future (for example, they 
might expect that some day the automatic machinery will break 
down and then people will begin to have collective hallucina- 
tions of a kind which will give evidence that their view is right), 3 
but whether they do make such predictions, or whether they 
commit themselves to no predictions different from the ones 
afforded by standard theory, will not affect my argument. The 
point is that here I've imagined a case where a vast number of 
people have a self-contained belief system which violently dis- 
agrees with ours. 

There is no question of a disagreement in 'ethical' values here; 

3 If they do make such predictions, then it does make this much difference: 
their view is no longer incoherent in the way we criticized in Chapter 
1, since they are making a claim that could be justified (eventually), and 
hence one that does not require a view of truth as 'transcendent* (or 
independent of justification) to be understood. 


Fact and value 

the Australians can have ethics just as similar to ours as you like. 
(Although an ancient Greek would have said that being wise is 
an ethical value; Judaism and Christianity have, in fact, nar- 
rowed the notion of the ethical because of a certain conception 
of Salvation.) 

The first thing I want to observe about the hypothetical Aus- 
tralians is that their world view is crazy* Sometimes, to be sure, 
( crazy' is used almost as a term of approval; but I don't mean it 
in that sense here. I think we would regard a community of 
human beings who held so insane a world view with great sad- 
ness. The Australians would be regarded as crazy in the sense of 
having sick minds; and the characterization of their minds as 
sick is an ethical one, or verges on the ethical. But how, other 
than by calling them names, could one argue with the Austra- 
lians? (Or try to argue with them, for I shall suppose that they 
are not to be convinced.) 

One argument that one can immediately think of has to do 
with the incoherence of their view. I don't just mean the inco- 
herence that we found in the view in Chapter 1. That is a deep 
incoherence, which requires a philosophical (and hence contro- 
versial) argument to expose. But the Australian's view is inco- 
herent at a much more superficial level. One of the things that 
we aim at is that we should be able to give an account of how 
we know our statements to be true. In part we try to do this by 
developing a causal theory of perception, so that we can account 
for what we take to be the reliability of our perceptual knowl- 
edge, viewed from within our theory itself, by giving an account 
within the theory of how our perceptions result from the opera- 
tion of transducing organs upon the external world. In part we 
try to do this by a theory of statistics and experimental design, 
so that we can show, within our theory itself, how the proce- 
dures that we take to exclude experimental error really do have 
a tendency in the majority of cases to exclude experimental 
error. In short, it is an important and extremely useful constraint 
on our theory itself that our developing theory of the world 
taken as a whole should include an account of the very activity 
and processes by which we are able to know that that theory is 

The Australians' system, however, does not have this property 
of coherence (at least as we judge it, and 'coherence' is not some- 

Fact and value 


thing that we have an algorithm for, but something that we ulti- 
mately judge by 'seat of the pants' feel). The Australians, remem- 
ber, have themselves postulated an illusion so perfect that there 
is no rational way in which the Guru of Sydney can possibly 
know that the belief system which he has adopted and persuaded 
all the others to adopt is correct. Judged by our standards of 
coherence, their belief system is totally incoherent. 

Other methodological virtues could be listed which their belief 
system lacks. Their belief system, as I described it, agrees with 
ours concerning what the laws of nature are in the image; but 
does it tell us whether or not the laws of nature that appear to 
hold in the image are the laws of nature that actually hold out- 
side the vat? If it fails to, then it lacks a certain kind of compre- 
hensiveness which we aim after, for it does not, even in its own 
terms, tell what the true and ultimate laws of nature are. Cer- 
tainly it violates Ockham's razor. Again, Ockham's razor seems 
difficult or impossible to formalize as an algorithm, but the very 
fact that the Brain in a Vatist theory postulates all kinds of 
objects outside the vat which play no role in the explanation of 
our experiences, according to the theory itself, makes it clear 
that this is a case in which we can definitely say that the maxim 
. . . 'don't multiply entities without necessity' is violated. Let us 
call a theory which obeys Ockham's razor, in spirit as opposed 
to just in letter, functionally simple. 

What I have been saying is that the procedures by which we 
decide on the acceptability of a scientific theory have to do with 
whether or not the scientific theory as a whole exhibits certain 
'virtues'. I am assuming that the procedure of building up scien- 
tific theory cannot be correctly analyzed as a procedure of veri- 
fying scientific theories sen tence by sentence. I am assuming that 
verification in science is a holistic matter, that it is whole theo- 
retical systems that meet the test of experience 'as a corporate 
body', and that the judgment of how well a whole system of 
sentences meets the test of experience is ultimately somewhat of 
an intuitive matter which could not be formalized short of for- 
malizing total human psychology. But let us come back to our 
original question. What are the values implicit in science? 

I've been arguing that if we take the values to which we appeal 
in our criticism of the Brain-in-a-Vatists, and add, of course, 
other values which are not at issue in this case, e.g. our desire for 


Fact and value 

instrumental efficacy, which we presumably share with the 
Brain-in-a-Vatists, then we get a picture of science as presuppos- 
ing a rich system of values. The fact is that, if we consider the 
ideal of rational acceptability which is revealed by looking at 
what theories scientists and ordinary people consider rational to 
accept, then we see that what we are trying to do in science is to 
construct a representation of the world which has the character- 
istics of being instrumentally efficacious, coherent, comprehen- 
sive, and functionally simple. But why? 

I would answer that the reason we want this sort of represen- 
tation, and not the 'sick' sort of notional world possessed by the 
Australians, possessed by the Brain-in-a-Vatists, is that having 
this sort of representation system is part of our idea of human 
cognitive flourishing, and hence part of our idea of total human 
flourishing, of Eudaemonia. 

Of course, if metaphysical realism were right, and one could 
view the aim of science simply as trying to get our notional 
world to 'match' the world in itself, then one could contend that 
we are interested in coherence, comprehensiveness, functional 
simplicity, and instrumental efficicacy only because these are 
instruments to the end of bringing about this 'match'. But the 
notion of a transcendental match between our representation 
and the world in itself is nonsense. To deny that we want this 
kind of metaphysical match with a noumenal world is not to 
deny that we want the usual sort of empirical fit (as judged by 
our criteria of rational acceptability) with an empirical world. 
But the empirical world, as opposed to the noumenal world, 
depends upon our criteria of rational acceptability (and, of 
course, vice versa). We use our criteria of rational acceptability 
to build up a theoretical picture of the 'empirical world' and then 
as that picture develops we revise our very criteria of rational 
acceptability in the light of that picture and so on and so on 
forever. The dependence of our methods on our picture of the 
world is something I have stressed in my other books; what I 
wish to stress here is the other side of the dependence, the depen- 
dence of the empirical world on our criteria of rational accepta- 
bility. What I am saying is that we must have criteria of rational 
acceptability to even have an empirical world, that these reveal 
part of our notion of an optimal speculative intelligence. In 

Fact and value 


short, I am saying that the 'real world' depends upon our values 
(and, again, vice versa). 

At least some values must be objective 

The fact that science is not 'value neutral', as has been thought, 
does not, to be sure, show that 'ethical' values are objective, or 
that ethics could be a science. In fact, there is no prospect of a 
'science' of ethics, whether in the sense of a laboratory science or 
of a deductive science. As Aristotle long ago remarked, 4 

We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects 
and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and 
in outline, and in speaking about things which are only 
for the most part true, and with premisses of the same 
kind, to reach conclusions which are no better. In 
the same spirit, therefore, should each kind of statement 
be received, for it is the mark of an educated man to 
look for precision in each class of things just so far as the 
nature of the subject admits; it is evidently foolish to 
accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to 
demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs. 

But the fact that rational acceptability in the exact sciences 
(which are certainly central examples of rational thinking) does 
depend on such cognitive virtues as 'coherence' and 'functional 
simplicity' shows that at least some value terms stand for prop- 
erties of the things they are applied to, and not just for feelings 
of the person who uses the terms. 

If the terms 'coherent' and 'simple' do not stand lot properties 
of theories, not even fuzzy or imperfectly defined ones, but only 
for 'attitudes' that some people have towards theories, then such 
terms for rational acceptability as 'justified', 'well confirmed', 
'best of the available explanations' must also be entirely subjec- 
tive: for rational acceptability cannot be more objective than the 
parameters upon which it depends. But, as we argued in the pre- 
ceding chapter, the view that rational acceptability itself is sim- 
ply subjective is a self-refuting one. So we are compelled to con- 

4 Ethica Nicomacbea, Book I, Ch. 3. 


Fact and value 

elude that at least these value-terms have some sort of objective 
application, some sort of objective justification conditions. 

Of course, one might attempt to avoid conceding that there 
are objective values of any kind by choosing to deny that 
'coherent', 'simple', 'justified', and the like are value terms. One 
might hold that they stand for properties which we do value, but 
that there is no objective Tightness about our doing so. But this 
line runs into difficulties at once. 'Coherent' and 'simple' have 
too many characteristics in common with the paradigmatic value 
words. Like 'kind', 'beautiful', and 'good', 'coherent' and 'sim- 
ple' are often used as terms of praise. Our conceptions of coher- 
ence, simplicity, and justification are just as historically condi- 
tioned as our conceptions of kindness, beauty, and goodness; 
these epistemic terms figure in the same sorts of perennial 
philosophical controversies as do the terms for ethical and aes- 
thetic values. The conception of rationality of a John Cardinal 
Newman is obviously quite different from that of a Rudolf Car- 
nap. It is highly unlikely that either could have convinced the 
other, had they lived at the same time and been able to meet. 
The question: which is the rational conception of rationality 
itself is difficult in exactly the way that the justification of an 
ethical system is difficult. There is no neutral conception of 
rationality to which to appeal. 

One might attempt various conventionalist moves here, e.g. 
saying that 'justifiedcamap' is one 'property' and justified NeW man| 
is a different 'property', and that a 'subjective value judgment' 
is involved in the decision to mean 'justifiedcamap' or 'justi- 
fied Newm a„' by the word 'justified' but that no value judgment 
is involved in stating the fact that a given statement S is justi- 
fied Carnap or justified Newma „. But from whose standpoint is the 
word facf being used? If there is no conception of rationality one 
objectively ought to have, then the notion of a 'fact' is empty. 
Without the cognitive values of coherence, simplicity, and 
instrumental efficacy we have no world and no 'facts', not even 
facts about what is so relative to what, for those are in the same 
boat with all other facts. And these cognitive values are arbitrary 
considered as anything but a part of a holistic conception of 
human flourishing. Bereft of the old realist idea of truth as 'cor- 
respondence' and of the positivist idea of justification as fixed by 
public 'criteria', we are left with the necessity of seeing our 

Fact and value 


search for better conceptions of rationality as an intentional 
human activity, which, like every activity that rises above habit 
and the mere following of inclination or obsession, is guided by 
our idea of the good. 

Rationality in other areas 

If the values implicit in science, especially in the exact sciences, 
reveal a part of our idea of the good, I think that the rest of our 
idea of the good can be read off from our standards of rational 
acceptability in yet other areas of knowledge. At this point, how- 
ever, it is necessary to broaden the notion of standards of 
rational acceptability. 

So far, we have only considered standards of rational accept- 
ability in the literal sense: standards which tell us when we 
should and when we should not accept statements. But stan- 
dards of rationality in the wide sense have to do not only with 
how we judge the truth or falsity of systems of statements, but 
also with how we judge their adequacy and perspicuousness. 
There are ways — purely cognitive ways — in which a system of 
statements can fall short of giving us a satisfactory description 
other than by being false. 

Had I chosen I could have made this point even in connection 
with theoretical science. I could have pointed out that the con- 
cern of exact science is not just to discover statements which are 
true, or even statements which are true and universal in form 
('laws'), but to find statements that are true and relevant And 
the notion of relevance brings with it a wide set of interests and 
values. But this would have only been to argue that our knowl- 
edge of the world presupposes values, and not to make the more 
radical claim that what counts as the real world depends upon 
our values. 

When we come to perceptual rationality, that is to the implicit 
standards and skills on the basis of which we decide whether 
someone is able to give a true, adequate, and perspicuous 
account of even the simplest perceptual facts, then we see a large 
number of factors at play. Recently psychologists have stressed 
just how much theory construction is involved in even the sim- 
plest cases of perception. Not only is this true at the neurophys- 
iological level, but it is also true at the cultural level. Someone 


Fact and value 

from a culture which had no furniture might be able to come 
into a room and give some kind of description of the room, but, 
if he did not know what a table or a chair or a desk was, his 
description would hardly convey the information that a member 
of this culture would wish to have about the room. His descrip- 
tion might consist only of true statements but it would not be 

What this simple example shows is that the requirement that 
a description be adequate is implicitly a requirement that the 
describer have available a certain set of concepts; we expect 
rational describers with respect to certain kinds of descripta to 
be capable of acquiring certain concepts and of seeing the need 
to use them; the fact that the describer did not employ a certain 
concept may be a ground for criticizing both him and his 

What is true at the simple level of talk about tables and chairs 
in a room without people in it is also true at the level of descrip- 
tion of interpersonal relations and situations. Consider the terms 
we use every day in describing what other people are like, e.g. 
considerate or inconsiderate. Considerate and inconsiderate may 
of course be used to praise or blame; and one of the many dis- 
tinctions which have gotten confused together under the general 
heading 'fact— value distinction' is the distinction between using 
a linguistic expression to describe and using that linguistic 
expression to praise or blame. But this distinction is not a dis- 
tinction which can be drawn on the basis of vocabulary. The 
judgment that someone is inconsiderate may indeed be used to 
blame; but it may be used simply to describe, and it may also be 
used to explain or to predict. 

For example I may say to you, 'Don't let Jones hurt your feel- 
ings. You're likely to think that he's taken a dislike to you from 
the way he will talk, but that's a common misimpression. No 
matter what he feels about you he'll likely behave in such a way 
that your feelings will be hurt. He's just a rather inconsiderate 
man, but don't think that it has anything to do with you.' 

In this little imaginary speech someone is using the word 
'inconsiderate' not for the purpose of blaming Jones, but with 
the intention of predicting and explaining Jones' behavior to 
someone else. And both the prediction and the explanation may 
be perfectly correct. And similarly, 'jealous' may be a term of 

Fact and value 


blame and may be used without any intention of blaming at all. 
(Sometimes one has a perfect right to be jealous.) 

The use of the word 'inconsiderate' seems to me a very fine 
example of the way in which the fact/value distinction is hope- 
lessly fuzzy in the real world and in the real language. The 
importance of terms like 'inconsiderate', 'pert', 'stubborn', 
'pesky', etc., in actual moral evaluation, has been emphasized by 
Iris Murdoch in The Sovereignty of 'Good 9 , 5 Even though each 
of the statements 'John is a very inconsiderate man', 'J onn 
thinks about nobody but himself, 'John would do practically 
anything for money' may be simply a true description in the 
most positivistic sense (and notice 'John would do practically 
anything for money' does not contain any value term), if one has 
asserted the conjunction of these three statements it is hardly 
necessary to add 'John is not a very good person'. When we 
think of facts and values as independent we typically think of 
'facts' as stated in some physicalistic or bureaucratic jargon, and 
the 'values' as being stated in the most abstract value terms, e.g. 
'good', 'bad'. The independence of value from fact is harder to 
maintain when the facts themselves are of the order of 'incon- 
siderate', 'thinks only about himself, 'would do anything for 

Just as we criticize a describer who does not employ the con- 
cepts of table and chair when their use is called for, so also, 
someone who fails to remark that someone is considerate or 
spontaneous may open himself to the criticism that he is imper- 
ceptive or superficial; his description is not an adequate one. 

The super-Benthamites 

Let me go back and modify my previous example of the 'Brain- 
in-a-Vatists'. This time let us imagine that the continent of Aus- 
tralia is peopled by a culture which agrees with us on history, 
geography and exact science, but which disagrees with us in eth- 
ics. I don't want to take the usual case of super- Nazis or some- 
thing of that kind, but I want to take rather the more interesting 
case of super-Benthamites. Let us imagine that the continent of 
Australia is peopled with people who have some elaborate sci- 

s Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970. 


Fact and value 

entific measure of what they take to be 'hedonic tone', and who 
believe that one should always act so as to maximize hedonic 
tone (taking that to mean the greatest hedonic tone of the great- 
est number). I will assume that the super-Benthamites are 
extremely sophisticated, aware of all the difficulties of predicting 
the future and exactly estimating the consequences of actions 
and so forth. I will also assume that they are extremely ruthless, 
and that while they would not cause someone suffering for the 
sake of the greatest happiness of the greatest number if there 
were reasonable doubt that in fact the consequence of their 
action would be to bring about the greatest happiness of the 
greatest number, that in cases where one knows with certainty 
what the consequences of the actions would be, they would be 
willing to perform the most horrible actions - willing to torture 
small children or to condemn people for crimes which they did 
not commit - if the result of these actions would be to increase 
the general satisfaction level in the long run (after due allowance 
for the suffering of the innocent victim in each case) by any pos- 
itive e, however small. 

I imagine that we would not feel very happy about this sort of 
super-Benthamite morality. Most of us would condemn the 
super-Benthamites as having a sick system of values, as being 
bureaucratic, as being ruthless, etc. They are the 'new man' in 
his most horrible manifestation. And they would return our 
invective by saying that we are soft-headed, superstitious, pris- 
oners of irrational tradition, etc. 

The disagreement between us and the super-Benthamites is 
just the sort of disagreement that is ordinarily imagined in order 
to make the point that two groups of people might agree on all 
the facts and still disagree about the 'values'. But let us look at 
the case more closely. Every super-Benthamite is familiar with 
the fact that sometimes the greatest satisfaction of the greatest 
number (measured in 'utils') requires one to tell a lie. And it is 
not counted as being 'dishonest' in the pejorative sense to tell lies 
out of the motive of maximizing the general pleasure level. So 
after a while the use of the description 'honest' among the super- 
Benthamites would be extremely different from the use of that 
same descriptive term among us. And the same will go for 'con- 
siderate', 'good citizen', etc. The vocabulary available to the 
super-Benthamites for the description of people-to-people situa- 

Fact and value 


tions will be quite different from the vocabulary available to us. 
Not only will they lack, or have altered beyond recognition, 
many of our descriptive resources, but they will very likely 
invent new jargon of their own (for example, exact terms for 
describing hedonic tones) that are unavailable to us. The texture 
of the human world will begin to change. In the course of time 
the super-Benthamites and we will end up living in different 
human worlds. 

In short, it will not be the case that we and the super-Bentham- 
ites 'agree on the facts and disagree about values'. In the case of 
almost all interpersonal situations, the description we give of the 
facts will be quite different from the description they give of the 
facts. Even if none of the statements they make about the situa- 
tion are false, their description will not be one that we will count 
as adequate and perspicuous; and the description we give will 
not be one that they could count as adequate and perspicuous. 
In short, even if we put aside our 'disagreement about the val- 
ues', we could not regard their total representation of the human 
world as fully rationally acceptable. And just as the Brain-in-a- 
Vatists' inability to get the way the world is right is a direct result 
of their sick standards of rationality - their sick standards of 
theoretical rationality - so the inability of the super-Benthamites 
to get the way the human world is right is a direct result of their 
sick conception of human flourishing. 

Subjectivism about goodness 

It has often been claimed that the step from 'John is considerate, 
truthful, kind, courageous, responsible, etc' to 'John is morally 
good' involves at least one unproved (and unprovable) 'premiss', 
namely, 'Consideration is morally good.' And it has been held 
that the need for moral 'premisses' before one can draw moral 
conclusions from 'factual' statements shows that ethical state- 
ments are not rationally justifiable. 

This picture of ethics as a sort of inverted pyramid, with the 
tip (which is itself unsupported) consisting of 'ethical axioms' 
which support our whole body of moral belief and thinking, is 
naive. No one has ever succeeded in imposing an axiomatic 
structure upon ethics (as Aristotle remarked in the passage I 
cited a few pages ago, such moral maxims as we are able to list 


Fact and value 

are almost always true only 'for the most part'). And the same 
trick, of picturing a body of thinking one wishes to cast into 
doubt as resting upon unsupportable 'axioms' is one which scep- 
tics have employed in every area. Sceptics who doubt the exis- 
tence of material objects, for example, argue that the principle 
that 'if our sensations occur as they would if there were a mate- 
rial world, then there probably is a material world' is a rationally 
unsupportable premiss which we tacitly invoke whenever we 
claim to 'observe' a material object, or try otherwise to justify 
belief in their existence. In fact, ethics and mathematics and talk 
of material objects presuppose concepts not 'axioms'. Concepts 
are used in observation and generalization, and are themselves 
made legitimate by the success we have in using them to describe 
and generalize. 

A more sophisticated attack on the idea of ethical objectivity 
concedes that our ethical beliefs rest on observations of specific 
cases, 'intuitions', general maxims, etc., and not on some collec- 
tion of arbitrary 'ethical axioms', but makes the charge that eth- 
ical 'observation' itself is infected with an incurable disease: pro- 

According to this account, humans are naturally, if intermit- 
tently, compassionate. So when we see something terrible hap- 
pening, as it might be, someone torturing a small child just for 
his own sadistic pleasure, we are (sometimes) horrified. But the 
psychological mechanism of 'projection' leads us to experience 
the feeling quality as a quality of the deed itself: we say 'the act 
was horrible' when we should really say 'my reaction was to be 
horrified'. Thus we build up a body of what we take to be 'ethi- 
cal observations', which are really just observations of our own 
subjective ethical feelings. 

This story has more sophisticated forms (like any other). 
Hume postulated a human tendency he called 'sympathy', which 
has gradually become wider under the influence of culture. Con- 
temporary sociobiologists postulate an instinct they call 'altru- 
ism', and speak of 'altruistic genes'. But the key idea remains the 
same: there are ethical feelings, but no objective value proper- 

We have already seen that this is not right: there are at least 
some objective values, for example, justification. It could still be 
claimed that the ethical values are subjective while the cognitive 

Fact and value 


values are objective; but the argument that there can't be any 
objective values at all has been refuted. 

In order to show what is wrong with arguments for moral 
subjectivism, I must now recall the arguments that were used 
against metaphysical realism in Chapter 2. This may seem queer: 
isn't subjectivism the opposite of metaphysical realism? If one 
thinks so, then it will seem that any argument against metaphys- 
ical realism must support subjectivism; the strategy I am going 
to follow of using the same argument against both metaphysical 
realism and subjectivism will seem an impossible one. 

But in fact, metaphysical realism and subjectivism are not sim- 
ple 'opposites'. Today we tend to be too realistic about physics 
and too subjectivistic about ethics, and these are connected ten- 
dencies. It is because we are too realistic about physics, because 
we see physics (or some hypothetical future physics) as the One 
True Theory, and not simply as a rationally acceptable descrip- 
tion suited for certain problems and purposes, that we tend to be 
subjectivistic about descriptions we cannot 'reduce' to physics. 
Becoming less realistic about physics and becoming less subjec- 
tivistic about ethics are likewise connected. 

The argument at the end of Chapter 2 was directed against the 
'physicalistic' or naturalistic version of metaphysical realism. To 
recall it, let us suppose that the standard interpretation J (Under 
which 'cat' refers to cats, 'cherry' to cherries, etc.) is either coex- 
tensive with or identical with physicalistic relation R. So R 
holds between tokens of 'cat' (or physical events of someone's 
using those tokens suitably) and cats, etc. The non-standard 
interpretation/ we described will then also be co-extensive with 
a certain relation R ', definable in terms of R and the possible 
worlds and permutations used in constructing/ (see Appendix). 
So R' holds between tokens of 'cat' (or the physical events of 
someone's using those tokens in the standard way) and cherries, 
etc. R and R r are both 'correspondences': The same sentences 
are 'true' under both correspondences. The actions called for by 
the R '-truth of a sentence (i.e. the actions which will 'succeed', 
from the agent's point of view) are the same as the actions called 
for when the sentence is It -true. If R is 'identical with reference'; 
if R, R', and all the other relations which assign extensions to 
our words in ways which satisfy our operational and theoretical 


Fact and value 

constraints are not equally correct; if R, R' and the others are 
not equally correct because one of them - R - just is reference; 
then that fact itself is an inexplicable fact from a physicalist per- 

This argument is not just an argument against (the physicalist 
version of) metaphysical realism, but an argument against 
reductionism. If there is nothing in the physicalist world-picture 
that corresponds to the obvious fact that 'cat' refers to cats and 
not to cherries, then that is a decisive reason for rejecting the 
demand that all the notions we use must be reduced to physical 
terms. For reference and truth are notions we cannot consis- 
tently give up. If I think 'a cat is on a mat', then I am committed 
to believing that 'cat' refers to something (though not to a meta- 
physical realist account of 'reference') and to believing that 'a 
cat is on a mat' is true (though not to a metaphysical realist 
account of truth). 

Having reviewed the argument of Chapter 2, let us now see 
how it bears on the arguments for moral subjectivism. The 'pro- 
jection' theory gave one account of moral experience: moral 
experience is, so to speak, mislocated subjective feeling. Contrast 
the 'projection' theory with the following account: 'all humans 
have, to some extent, a sense of justice and some idea of the 
good. So we respond (intermittently) to such appeals as "be kind 
to the stranger among you, because you know what it was like 
to be a stranger in Egypt". Our sympathy becomes broader, 
partly because we are persuaded that it ought to be broader; we 
feel that an atrocity is wrong (sometimes) even when we don't 
easily or spontaneously find the victim a person we can sympa- 
thize with. We come to see similarities between injuries to others 
and injuries to ourselves, and between benefits to others and 
benefits to ourselves. We invent moral words for morally rele- 
vant features of situations, and we gradually begin to make 
explicit moral generalizations, which lead to still further refine- 
ment of our moral notions, and so on.' 

This account is, on the face of it, simpler and more sophisti- 
cated than the 'projection' theory. (For one thing, it acknowl- 
edges the role of argument in shaping moral attitudes.) Never- 
theless, many intelligent people feel that today we must reject 
talk of a 'sense of justice' and talk of 'having an idea of the good' 
(where this is not taken in a purely subjective sense), as 'unscien- 

Fact and value 


tific'. So moral knowledge becomes problematical; perhaps 
downright impossible. 

But what does 'unscientific' mean here? A belief that there is 
such a thing as justice is not a belief in ghosts, nor is a 'sense of 
justice' a para -normal sense which enables us to perceive such 
ghosts. Justice is not something anyone proposes to add to the 
list of objects recognized by physics as eighteenth-century chem- 
ists proposed to add 'phlogiston' to the list of objects recognized 
by chemical theory. Ethics does not conflict with physics, as the 
term 'unscientific' suggests; it is simply that 'just' and 'good' and 
'sense of justice' are concepts in a discourse which is not reduc- 
ible to physical discourse. As we have just seen, other kinds of 
essential discourse are not reducible to physical discourse and 
are not for that reason illegitimate. Talk of 'justice', like talk of 
'reference', can be wow-scientific without being unscientific. 

As a way of seeing what is going on, let us consider any basic 
principle of logic or mathematics, say, the principle that the 
series of whole numbers can always be continued ('every number 
has a successor'), or the principle that a non-empty set of whole 
numbers must contain a smallest member. Suppose someone put 
forward the following view: 'These principles are true for the 
numbers and sets of numbers we deal with in practice. So they 
come to seem necessary. By the mechanism called "projection", 
we attach this feeling of necessity to the principles themselves; 
we feel xhz statements have a mysterious "necessity". But in real- 
ity this has no justification. For all we know, these principles 
may not even be true.' 

Virtually no one would agree with this. Virtually every math- 
ematician would say, instead, something like this: 'Most humans 
have mathematical intuition to some extent. So we intuitively 
"see", or can be brought by examples (or by skillful questioning, 
like the slave-boy in Plato's dialogue) to "see" that the principles 
are necessarily true.' 

Kurt Godel believed that 'mathematical intuition' was analo- 
gous to perception; mathematical objects (which he called 'con- 
cepts') are out there, and our intuition enables us to intellectually 
perceive these Platonic entities; but few mathematicians would 
commit themselves to such a Platonic metaphysics. Godel's com- 
parison of mathematical intuition to perception reveals an over- 


Fact and value 

simple idea of perception. Vision does not really give us direct 
access to a ready made world, but gives us a description of 
objects which are partly structured and constituted by vision 
itself. If we take the physicist's rainbow to be the rainbow 'in 
itself, then the rainbow 'in itself has no bands (a spectroscopic 
analysis yields a smooth distribution of frequencies); the red, 
orange, yellow, green, blue and violet bands are a feature of the 
perceptual rainbow, not the physicist's rainbow. The perceptual 
rainbow depends on the nature of our perceptual aparatus itself, 
on our visual 'world making' as Nelson Goodman has termed it. 
(The physicist's 'objects' also depend on our worldmaking, as is 
shown by the plethora of radically different versions physics 
constructs of the 'same' objects.) Yet we do not consider vision 
as defective because it sees bands in the rainbow; someone who 
couldn't see them would have defective vision. Vision is certified 
as good by its ability to deliver a description which fits the 
objects for us, not metaphysical things-in-themselves. Vision is 
good when it enables us to see the world 'as it is' — that is, the 
human, functional world which is partly created by vision itself. 

A proposed new axiom of set theory, such as the 'Axiom of 
choice', may be adopted partly because of its agreement with the 
'intuition' of expert mathematicians, and partly for its yield. 
If the axiom of choice did not deliver results which count as 
successful mathematics the fact that some people find it 'intu- 
itive' would have little interest. Mathematical intuition itself is 
demonstrated or tested by grasping mathematical principles and 
by following proofs. In short, mathematical intuition is good 
when it enables us to see mathematical facts 'as they are' - that 
is, as they are in the mathematical world which is constructed by 
human mathematical practice (including the application of 
mathematics to other subject matters). 

A physiological or psychological description of vision cannot 
tell us whether seeing bands in the rainbow counts as seeing 'cor- 
rectly' or not. Even less could a physiological or psychological 
description of the brain-process which goes on when one 'grasps' 
the Principle of Mathematical Induction tell us whether that 
principle is true or not. Once one sees this, it should be no sur- 
prise that a description of the brain process which goes on when 
one 'sees' that an action is unjust cannot tell us whether the 
action really is unjust. 

Talk of moral 'perception', like talk of mathematical intuition, 

Fact and value 


or of reference and understanding, is not reducible to the lan- 
guage or the world-picture of physics. That does not mean phys- 
ics is 'incomplete'. Physics can be 'complete' - that is, complete 
for physical purposes. The completeness physics lacks is a com- 
pleteness all particular theories, pictures, and discourses lack. 
For no theory or picture is complete for all purposes. If the irre- 
ducibility of ethics to physics shows that values are projections, 
then colors are also projections. So are the natural numbers. So, 
for that matter, is 'the physical world'. But being a projection in 
this sense is not the same thing as being subjective. 6 

Authoritarianism and pluralism 

I have been arguing that it is necessary to have standards of 
rational acceptability in order to have a world at all; either a 
world of 'empirical facts' or a world of 'value facts' (a world in 
which there is beauty and tragedy). It should go without saying 
that it is not possible both to have standards of rational accept- 
ability and not to accept them, or to stand at arm's length from 
them. (The kind of scepticism which consists in refusing to have 
any standards of rational acceptability commits one to not hav- 
ing any concepts at all. As Sextus Empiricus recognized, that 
kind of empiricism ultimately is unexpressible in language.) We 
have just as much right to regard some 'evaluational' casts of 
mind as sick (and we all do) as we do to regard some 'cogni- 
tional' casts of mind as sick. But to say this is not to reject plu- 
ralism or to commit oneself to authoritarianism. 

Even in science, holding that science is an objective enterprise 
(by a standard of 'objectivity' which is admittedly anthropocen- 
tric, but, as David Wiggins once remarked, the only standard of 

6 An unintentionally funny version of the projection theory is cited by 
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (Macmillan, 1947). Lewis quotes a 
secondary school English text {which he does not identify, out of 
charity). 'You remember that there were two tourists present [Lewis is 
talking about the well known story of Coleridge at the waterfall]: that 
one called it "sublime" and the other "pretty"; and that Coleridge 
mentally endorsed the first judgment and rejected the second with 
disgust. Gaius and Titius [Lewis' pseudonyms for the unidentified 
authors of the text] comment as follows: "When the man said That is 
sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall . . . 
Actually he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but about his 
own feelings. What he was saying was really / have feelings in my mind 
associated with the word 'Sublime', or shortly, I have sublime feelings." ' 


Fact and value 

objectivity available to us) is not to hold that every scientific 
question has a determinate answer. Some scientific questions 
may have objectively indeterminate answers, i.e. there may be no 
convergence with respect to an answer to them even in the ideal 
limit of scientific inquiry; and some scientific questions may have 
determinate but context-relative answers (e.g. 'What was the 
cause of John's heart attack?' may have different correct answers 
depending on who asks the question and why). And, similarly, 
holding that ethical inquiry is objective in the sense that some 
'value judgments' are definitely true and some are definitely 
false, and more generally that some value positions (and some 
'ideologies') are definitely wrong, and some are definitely infe- 
rior to some others, is not the same thing as holding the silly 
position that there are no indeterminate cases at all. (One espe- 
cially important kind of indeterminate case has been emphasized 
by Bernard Williams: this is the case where all the alternatives 
are so horrible that there is no one of the alternatives that would 
clearly be chosen by an ideally rational and wise person.) And 
that there are context relativities in ethics goes without saying. 

If today we differ with Aristotle it is in being much more plu- 
ralistic than Aristotle was. Aristotle recognized that different 
ideas of Eudaemonia, different conceptions of human flourish- 
ing, might be appropriate for different individuals on account of 
the difference in their constitution. But he seemed to think that 
ideally there was some sort of constitution that every one ought 
to have; that in an ideal world (overlooking the mundane ques- 
tion of who would grow the crops and who would bake the 
bread) everyone would be a philosopher. We agree with Aris- 
totle that different ideas of human flourishing are appropriate 
for individuals with different constitutions, but we go further 
and believe that even in the ideal world there would be different 
constitutions, that diversity is part of the ideal. And we see some 
degree of tragic tension between ideals, that the fulfillment of 
some ideals always excludes the fulfillment of some others. But 
to emphasize the point again, belief in a pluralistic ideal is not 
the same thing as belief that every ideal of human flourishing is 
as good as every other. We reject ideals of human flourishing as 
wrong, as infantile, as sick, as one-sided. 

Nor should commitment to ethical objectivity be confused 
with what is a very different matter, commitment to ethical or 

Fact and value 


moral authoritarianism. It is perhaps this confusion that has lead 
one outstanding philosopher 7 to espouse what he himself 
regards as a limited version of 'non-cognitivism', and to say 
'Concerning what "living most fully" is for each man, the final 
authority must be the man himself.' (Notice the ambiguity in 
'the final authority': does he mean the final political authority? 
The final epistemological authority? Or does he mean that there 
is no fact of the matter, as his use of the term 'non-cognitivism' 
suggests?) Respect for persons as autonomous moral agents 
requires that we accord them the right to choose a moral stand- 
point for themselves, however repulsive we may find their 
choice. According to the philosophy of political liberalism, it 
also requires that we also insist the government not preempt 
individual moral choices by setting up a state religion or a state 
morality. But diehard opposition to all forms of political and 
moral authoritarianism should not commit one to moral relativ- 
ism or moral scepticism. The reason that it is wrong for the gov- 
ernment to dictate a morality to the individual citizen is not that 
there is no fact of the matter about what forms of life are fulfill- 
ing and what forms of life are not fulfilling, or morally wrong in 
some other way. (If there were no such thing as moral wrong, 
then it would not be wrong for the government to impose moral 
choices.) The fact that many people fear that if they concede any 
sort of moral objectivity out loud then they will find some gov- 
ernment shoving its notion of moral objectivity down their 
throats is without question one of the reasons why so many peo- 
ple subscribe to a moral subjectivism to which they give no real 

7 David Wiggins in 'Truth, Invention, and the Meaning of Life', Proceed- 
ings of the British Academy, vol. LXII, 1976. 


Reason and history 

With the rise of science has come the realization that many ques- 
tions cannot be settled by the methods of the exact sciences, ide- 
ological and ethical questions being the most obvious examples. 
And with the increase in our admiration and respect for the 
physicist, the cosmologist, the molecular biologist, has come a 
decrease in respect and trust for the political thinker, the moral- 
ist, the economist, the musician, the psychiatrist, etc. 

In this situation some have gone with the cultural tide and 
argued that, indeed, there is no knowledge to be found outside 
of the exact sciences (and the social sciences to the extent that 
they succeed in aping the exact sciences, and only to this extent). 
This view may take the form of positivism or materialism, or 
some combination of these. Others have tried to argue that sci- 
ence too is 'subjective' and arbitrary - this is the popular reading 
of Kuhn's immensely successful book The Structure of Scientific 
Revolutions, even if it is not the one Kuhn now says he intended. 
Others - e.g. the Marxist philosophers and the religious philos- 
ophers - adopt a sort of double-entry bookkeeping, leaving 
technical questions to the exact sciences and engineering and ide- 
ological or ethical questions to a different tribunal: the Party, 
the Utopian future, the church. But few can feel comfortable 
with any of these stances - with extreme scientism in either its 
positivist or materialist forms, with subjectivism and radical rel- 
ativism, or with any of the species of double-entry bookkeeping. 
It is just because we feel uncomfortable that there is a real prob- 
lem for us in this area. 

To be sure, the problem is in one way unreal. The same person 

Reason and history 


who argues that ethical and political opinions are unverifiable 
argues with passion for his ethical and political opinions. Hume 
said that he left his scepticism whenever he left his study; and 
relativists are likely to do the same with their relativism. But this 
only shows that no one can consistently live by relativism; if this 
is all that can be said in response to relativism, then we are just 
pushed from relativism to 1945 style existentialism ('it's all 
absurd, but you have to choose'). And is that so different? 

In order to fix our ideas, let us recall a remark by a philoso- 
pher of the last century whose Utilitarianism actually covered a 
good bit of relativism. I am thinking of Bentham, and of Ben- 
tham's challenging judgment that 'prejudice aside, the game of 
pushpin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and 
of poetry'. Prejudice aside, pushpin is as good as poetry. 

What makes this so shocking to the modern reader is how 
deeply it conflicts with our current cultural values. The arts have 
been exalted by us to a place much higher than any they occu- 
pied in Plato's day or in the middle ages. As a number of authors 
have remarked, for a certain sort of educated person, art today 
is religion, i.e. the closest thing to salvation available. 

Bentham is saying that a preference for 'the arts and sciences 
of music and poetry' over the childish game of pushpin is merely 
subjective, like a preference for vanilla ice cream over chocolate 
ice cream. He does not wish to deny that music and poetry do 
have greater value than pushpin ('prejudice aside' is an impor- 
tant part of the sentence); in the context of his Utilitarianism, 
the very fact that a large majority do prefer music and poetry to 
pushpin gives music and poetry greater 'utility' and hence 
greater value. But the value is, as it were, the product of 'preju- 
dice' (i.e. purely subjective interest); there is no fact of the matter 
about the relative value of pushpin and poetry apart from the 
fact that people prefer poetry to pushpin. We don't prefer poetry 
to pushpin because poetry has greater value than pushpin, Ben- 
tham is saying, rather, it's the other way around, and poetry has 
greater value than pushpin because people prefer poetry to push- 
pin. (For no reason apparently.) 

Stating the position so baldly already makes it look implausi- 
ble. Let us consider for the moment a really 'subjective' prefer- 

One model that people sometimes seem to have in mind for 


Reason and history 

subjective preference is this. There is something C which is the 
taste of chocolate ice cream; there is something V which is the 
taste of vanilla ice cream. There are two feelings L, D which are 
'liking' and 'disliking'. And what goes on and all that goes on, 
when Jones likes and Smith dislikes vanilla (and Smith likes and 
Jones dislikes chocolate), is that Jones experiences V + L when 
he eats vanilla and C +D when he eats chocolate whereas Smith 
experiences V + D when he eats vanilla and C + L when he eats 

Such an account is naive psychologically, however, as Kohler 
long ago argued. What vanilla tastes like to Jones, who likes 
vanilla ice cream, is not what it tastes like to Smith, who can't 
stand vanilla ice cream. Rather it's like this: Call the quality 
vanilla has for Smith V s . V $ is an 'unpleasant' taste; it may be 
imaginable that one could experience V s and like it, but just 
barely, and, even if one did, there would be some kind of disas- 
sociation or repression. In short, psychologically if not meta- 
physically, V s is 'intrinsically' unpleasant. And Smith feels D 
(dislike for the taste) when he eats vanilla because vanilla has the 
taste quality V s (for him). Similarly, V j5 the taste quality of 
vanilla for Jones is intrinsically 'pleasant' (which is why Jones 
feels L, liking). In the language of G. E. Moore, the taste Vj and 
the positive value are an organic unity for Jones, and the taste V s 
and the negative value are an organic unity for Smith. Phenom- 
enologically, they cannot really ever be separated into two parts 
in the way the notation ( V S + D\ 'Vj + U suggests. Almost cer- 
tainly (barring special factors of repression or disassociation), 
Smith would like vanilla ice cream too if it evoked Vj in his 
mouth and not V Si and Jones would dislike vanilla ice cream too 
if it evoked V 8 in his mouth and not V^ 

Why do we regard the preference for vanilla over chocolate as 
'subjective' then? I mean, why do we regard it as subjective even 
when we don't think all value judgments are subjective or agree 
with Bentham that, prejudice aside, pushpin is as good as 
poetry? Obviously, if we think all preferences are subjective, we 
will think this one is too, but the interesting question is why this 
judgment doesn't even seem objective to us unless, perhaps, we 
are Smith or Jones, why it doesn't have the kind of objectivity 
that many value judgments do undeniably have. 

It isn't just that there is disagreement. If we think there are 

Reason and history 


objective (or warranted) value judgments at all, very likely we 
think some hotly disputed judgments are objectively right. The 
Nazis disputed the judgment that wanton killing of Jews just 
because of their racial affiliation is wrong, but anti-Nazis did not 
regard their disagreement with the Nazis over this judgment as 
'subjective'. Those who think homosexuals should have full 
rights in our society violently disagree with those who think 
homosexual activity or civil rights of homosexuals should be 
legally proscribed; but neither side in this dispute regards its own 
position as 'subjective'. Indeed, disagreement frequently makes 
people more sure that their moral position is warranted. So it 
isn't just the fact that 'some people prefer chocolate and some 
people prefer vanilla' that makes the Smith/Jones disagreement 
in preference subjective. 

Part of the story may be that most people don't have strong 
preferences between vanilla and chocolate, but this cannot be 
decisive. If half of the population couldn't stand chocolate but 
liked vanilla, and the other half couldn't stand vanilla but liked 
chocolate, we would still (if we were reasonable about our pref- 
erences) regard this as a 'matter of taste', i.e. as subjective. It 
isn't the existence of 'neutrals' that is decisive. 

What is decisive, in my opinion, is that whatever biological or 
psychological idiosyncrasies are responsible for Smith's and 
Jones' preferences are not correlated with important traits of 
mind and character. If we try the thought experiment of imag- 
ining the contrary, of imagining that there was a caste of char- 
acter that we regarded as good, both for its own sake and 
because of its effects on feeling, judgment and action, and 
another caste of character that we regarded as bad, both in itself 
and for its effects, and that everyone knew that the good caste 
of mind and character always revealed itself in a preference for 
vanilla and the bad in a preference for chocolate, then I think we 
will find that the more vividly we can succeed in making this 
case real to ourselves, the more we will feel that in such a world 
the first preference would be seen as 'normal' and 'right' and the 
second as 'perverse' or 'monstrous' or something of that sort. 

I don't mean to claim that all preferences are judged morally 
by the traits of character they are thought to express. Some 'pref- 
erences' are terribly important in themselves: someone who 
thought it was just wonderful to torture small children for the 


Reason and history 

fun of it would (if he was serious) be condemned on the basis of 
that one attitude. But if the matter preferred is not regarded as 
important in itself, then whether we make an issue of the pref- 
erence or take it to be 'a matter of taste' will generally depend 
on what, if anything, we think the preference shows. Value judg- 
ments often come in clumps; and clumps of value judgments fre- 
quently express durable traits of mind, personality, and charac- 
ter. The independence of 'I prefer vanilla to chocolate ice 
cream' from any interesting and significant 'clump' of this kind 
is just what makes it 'subjective' (along, of course, with the 
absence of any intrinsic importance to the choice itself). 

Even if Smith's preference for vanilla is 'subjective', that does 
not make it irrational or arbitrary. Smith has a reason - the best 
possible reason - for liking vanilla, namely the way it tastes to 
him. Values can be 'subjective' in the sense of being relative and 
still be objective; it is objective that vanilla tastes better than 
chocolate to Smith. In The Sovereignty of Good, Iris Murdoch 
pointed out that philosophers as different as the French Existen- 
tialists and the logical positivists actually shared a common 
model of value judgment, the model of reason as supplying the 
mind with neutral 'facts' on the basis of which the will must 
arbitrarily choose 'values' - the choice of values must be arbi- 
trary, precisely because 'facts' are (by definition) neutral. But, 
since the will is given no clues by reason as to how to judge 
(reason only supplies 'facts', on this picture) it has no reason for 
its arbitrary choice; which is why the French philosophers called 
it 'absurd', and why more naturalistically inclined philosophers 
see instinct and emotion (the historic successors to Bentham's 
all-purpose category of pleasure) as the ultimate basis of moral 

In the case we have just examined, the Existentialist-Positivist 
model does not fit however. The 'fact' - the taste itself- and the 
'value' - the goodness of the taste - are one, at least psycholog- 
ically. Presented experiential qualities aren't, in general, neutral 
and they frequently seem to demand responses and attitudes. 
One may override these felt demands for good and sufficient rea- 
son, as when a child learns to bear the pain of an injection for 
the sake of the benefits conferred by the immunizing agent 
injected, but the prima facie goodness and badness of particular 
experiences can hardly be denied. (Interestingly enough, this 

Reason and history 


point was recognized by Plato and the medievals - we are per- 
haps the first culture to conceive of experience as neutral). 

The non-neutrality of experience also bears on the 
pushpin/poetry case. We find it virtually impossible to imagine 
that someone who really appreciates poetry, someone who is 
capable of distinguishing real poetry from mere verse, capable of 
responding to great poetry, should prefer a childish game to arts 
which enrich our lives as poetry and music do. We have a reason 
for preferring poetry to pushpin, and that reason lies in the felt 
experience of great poetry, and of the after effects of great 
poetry - the enlargement of the imagination and the sensibility 
through the enlargement of our repertoire of images and meta- 
phors, and the integration of poetic images and metaphors with 
mundane perceptions and attitudes that takes place when a 
poem has lived in us for a number of years. These experiences 
too are prima facie good— and not just good, but enobling, to 
use an old fashioned word. 

That there can be reasons for value judgments — reasons 
which really are good reasons for particular people to make par- 
ticular value judgments — does not mean that all value judg- 
ments are rational, of course. Value judgments, judgments that 
people have cared passionately about, and in whose name people 
have killed and tortured other people, have often enough been 
based on an unwholesome mixture of aggressive impulses and 
narcissistic ideas. Not surprisingly, when a relativist 
historian/philosopher like Michel Foucault writes about the past, 
he often focusses our attention on these irrational ideas and 
value judgments. But it is important to see why he does this. 

Foucault writes about the early modern era (the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries) and about ideology and culture in general. 
His knowledge of fact is legendary, even though many specialists 
dispute Foucault's 'facts'. While some of his books are highly 
abstract (e.g. The Archeology of Knowledge), some are rather 
specific, e.g. The Birth of the Clinic and The Birth of the Prison. 
The Birth of the Clinic is perhaps Foucault's best book, and it 
makes an important part of the case for Foucault's more abstract 

What Foucault tries to show is that the 'clinic', i.e. the insti- 
tution of the hospital and the related medical institutions, was 
the reflection of the growth of a certain ideology about disease 


Reason and history 

and health as much as the result of any increase in scientific 
knowledge and technique. This ideology, in turn, was connected 
with wider ideological changes, especially with the growth of 
individualism in the seventeenth century. And he suggests both 
that the 'clinic' is not a very good way of treating most patients 
and that our belief that it is is a kind of ideological prejudice, in 
short, a kind of folly. 

The wider suggestion that emerges is that ideological convic- 
tions and the associated value judgments are a rather arbitrary 
affair. 1 There is no objective place to stand in ideological matters 
(except of course, for the mysterious standpoint of Foucault's 
own allegedly objective 'Archeology of Knowledge'). 

To see what Foucault is driving at, let us consider a more 
familiar and less controversial example. In the Middle Ages, it 
was believed that monarchy was the natural and proper form of 
government. This belief was based partly on factual beliefs now 
thought to be unwarranted (e.g. that democracy would inevita- 
bly lead to anarchy and tyranny), and partly on the authority of 
the Church. The view of the Church was in fact based partly on 
political considerations (the Church was the state religion), but 
this was not perceived because the Church itself was thought to 
be the divinely inspired and divinely appointed interpreter of the 
word and will of God. What Foucault is suggesting is that beliefs 
held in the recent past, and, by implication, the beliefs we hold 
right now, are no more rational than the medieval belief in the 
Divine Right of Kings. 

Let us consider the belief in the Divine Right of Kings for a 
moment. If we don't think there is a good reason to believe in 
the existence of a personal God, one who commands that we live 
by certain kinds of social forms and structures, then this belief 
will be immediately stamped as irrational (which is not to deny 
that the belief answered to real psychological needs). Even if we 

1 And also that we are determined in our thinking by the very language 
we use. Foucault speaks of 'implicit systems which determine our 
most familiar behavior without our knowing it* {see J. Simon, *A 
Conversation with Michel Foucault*, Partisan Review, No. 2, 1971, 
p. 201). French Structuralism, at least as represented by Foucault, 
Althusser, Lacan, Deleuze, etc., often seems to amount to (1) deter- 
minism; (2) relativism; and (3) claims that Structuralism is 'linguistic 

Reason and history 


believe in God, if we don't believe that the Church has special 
access to his wishes, we will think the Divine Right of Kings was 
and is an irrational doctrine. And finally, even believing Catho- 
lics will concede that the Church's support for monarchy in the 
Middle Ages was based as much on political considerations as 
on revelation or sound theology. In short, the belief in the Divine 
Right of Kings lacks, and always lacked, an adequate rational 

How, then, did the belief arise? The usual answer would 
appeal partly to political and economic factors (one does not 
have to be a Marxist to concede that these factors are among the 
determinants of ideology) and partly to psychological factors. 
The comfort provided by belief in a personal God and a here- 
after is obvious, and so, perhaps, is the comfort provided to the 
believer in an infallible Church and a divinely appointed social 
order. In short, narcissistic ego-gratification and social condi- 
tioning were the real determinants of this belief. And, if this 
belief is really typical, if it is really representative of all our 'ide- 
ological' beliefs, then such factors are the real determinants of 
all ideology. 

It is because they believe something like this that so many 
modern French thinkers hold Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche in 
such high esteem. Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche have this in com- 
mon: they see our cherished religious and ethical ideas as reflec- 
tions of the irrational, of class interest (in the case of Marx), of 
the unconscious (Freud and Nietzsche), of the Will to Power 
(Nietzsche). 2 Below what we are pleased to regard as our most 
profound spiritual and moral insights lies a seething cauldron of 
power drives, economic interests, and selfish fantasies. This is 
the view that is the cutting edge of relativism today. 

At the same time, no relativist can himself use the term 'irra- 
tional' in the way I have just used it in describing the relativist 
view. Such a use is ruled out by relativism itself. When I showed 
these pages to a relativist friend he was indignant at my state- 
ments about the Divine Right of Kings. Was I not aware that 
intelligent men had been convinced by philosophical arguments 

2 I am not accusing Marx, Freud, or Nietzsche of drawing relativist 
conclusions from this. 


Reason and history 

that this doctrine was correct? Was I offering a cheap Marxist or 
Freudian explanation? Of course, belief in the Divine Right of 
Kings was rational! 

My reply to him was that there may be a sense of 'rational' in 
which any view that can be intelligently and persuasively 
defended from the shared assumptions of a culture is a 'rational' 
view, but that sense cannot be the only or the normatively 
important one. The Jews accepted Moses as lawgiver and 
prophet because his doctrine filled real religious, cultural, and 
national needs; that is not the same thing as being convinced by 
rational argument. Later, prophets anointed Jewish kings (after 
trying to dissuade the Jews from having kings at all); that hardly 
proves that later Christian kings are divinely appointed. Chris- 
tianity, which shared the Jewish bible, became the religion of the 
Roman Empire - hardly because the population or the Emperor 
had rational proof that Christianity was true. Roman emperors 
were then anointed (as Jewish Kings had been); that hardly 
proves that they were divinely appointed. Finally, after the 
assumptions of Christianity had been accepted, one could give 
'rational arguments' for the Divine Rights of Kings from those 
assumptions. But to express this by saying that in the late Roman 
Empire or the Middle Ages, 'belief in the Divine Right of Kings 
was perfectly rational' is to debase the notion of rationality. 

Hegel, who introduced the idea that Reason itself changes in 
history, operated with two notions of rationality: there is a sense 
in which what is rational is measured by the level to which Spirit 
has developed in the historical process at a given time; it is in 
something like this sense that it is claimed by some that 'belief in 
the Divine Right of Kings was rational at the time'. And there is 
a limit notion of rationality in Hegel's system; the notion of that 
which is destined to be stable, the final self- awareness of Spirit 
which will not itself be transcended. When present day relativists 
'naturalize' Hegel by throwing away the limit-concept of true 
rationality, they turn the doctrine into a self-defeating cultural 

No relativist wants to be a relativist about everything how- 
ever. How do these French thinkers put limits on their own rel- 
ativism? The answer varies with the thinker. In the case of a 
Marxist like Althusser, the answer adopted is a version of the 
'class interest' theory: all 'ideologies' are the product of non- 

Reason and history 


rational factors, but those ideologies that are the product of the 
interests of the working class are (in the present era) 'just', and 
tend in the direction of human liberation, while those ideolo- 
gies that spring from the interests of the exploiting class are 
'unjust' and produce misery. But Althusser distinguishes himself 
from previous expounders of this class-relativist view by refusing 
to say that even Marxist ideology ('working class' ideology) is 
true or closer to the truth than bourgeois ideology. Ideologies 
can be 'just' or 'unjust' according to Althusser, but not true or 
false. 3 ('True' and 'false' apply, he says, in 'laboratory science', 
and, presumably, to those ordinary empirical statements that 
have clear empirical test conditions.) Foucault also seems to be 
moving towards a class-interest view in his most recent work, 
although it is hard to be sure. The point of such a view, at least 
in its radical Althusserian form, is that it seeks to preserve the 
radical relativist claim that no 'ideology' can be rational while 
saving the idea that some ideologies (the preferred one - Marx- 
ism-Leninism in the case of Althusser) can be good by distin- 
guishing between good and bad or 'just' and 'unjust' ideologies 
on grounds other than rational acceptability. Hie idea is that 
although all ideologies are adopted for irrational or non-rational 
causes, some non-rational causes (working class interests) are 
good, and produce good ideologies (by definition?) and some 
non-rational causes are bad and produce bad ideologies. Instead 
of judging ideologies by their reasons (which are always ratio- 
nalizations) we should judge them by their causes. 

This way of limiting one's own relativism is clearly unwork- 
able however. For on what is the judgment based that the victory 
of 'working class interests' will lead to such manifestly desirable 
consequences as a world free from war and racism, and not to 
totalitarianism and imperialism disguised as 'socialism'? If the 

3 According to Althusser, 'Philosophical propositions are Theses.* 
'Philosophical Theses can be held negatively as dogmatic propositions, 
insofar as they are not susceptible of demonstration in strict scientific 
sense of the term (in which one talks of demonstration in mathematics 
or in logic), nor of proof in the strict scientific sense {in which one talks 
of proof in the experimental sciences) . . . Philosophical Theses, since 
they can neither be demonstrated nor scientifically proved, cannot be 
said to be "true" (demonstrated or proved, as in mathematics and in 
physics). They can only be said to be "just" \ Philosophie et Philosophie 
Spontanee des Savants, pp. 13-14, Maspero (1967). 


Reason and history 

answer is that the latter wouldn't be 'true' socialism, or reflect 
'true* working class interests, then on what is the judgment 
based that any particular institution (e.g. the French Communist 
Party, of which Althusser is a leading member) or policy will 
promote 'true' working class interests and 'true' socialism? If 
these beliefs can be rationally justified, then not every ideology 
is irrational; if they cannot be, then the claim that any institution 
or policy is 'just' must be as utterly irrational as every other 'ide- 
ological' claim is asserted to be. If all human thought about ide- 
ological questions is self-serving folly, then thought about which 
beliefs spring from 'working class interests' and which do not 
must also be self-serving folly. 

Coming back to Foucault, however, and ignoring the signs in 
Foucault's most recent work that he too is becoming radicalized, 
his motive for focussing on the cases he chooses is precisely to 
suggest the utterly non-rational (and, in fact, irrational) character 
of the real reasons that people have for adopting ideological 
positions. And the notion of the ideological here is very wide; it 
is not just Communism, Fascism, Democracy, the Divine Right 
of Kings, etc., that are under discussion. The belief that someone 
is 'diseased' and needs a 'cure', the belief that someone is a 'crim- 
inal' and should, if possible, be 'rehabilitated', and many, many 
more of our everyday beliefs are 'ideological' in the sense of 
these thinkers. Indeed, to the eagle eye of the Marxist sociologist 
or the French philosopher, almost every belief is 'ideological'. 
Perhaps, 'if I drop this glass, it will break' is ideologically neu- 
tral, but little else is. 

It may seem that I have missed the real point of what Foucault 
is saying. His real point, he himself would say, is not that the 
ideological perspectives of the past were foolish or irrational at 
all, but rather that all ideology in the very wide sense in which 
he uses the term, including our present ideology, is culture- 
relative. He is trying to show us how every culture lives, thinks, 
sees, makes love, by a set of unconscious guiding assumptions 
with non-rational determinants. If previous ideologies now seem 
'irrational' it is because we judge them by our culture-bound 
notion of rationality. 

What is troubling about Foucault's account is that the deter- 
minants he and other French thinkers point to are irrational by 

Reason and history 


our present lights. If our present ideology is the product of forces 
that are irrational by its own lights, then it is internally incoher- 
ent. The French thinkers are not just cultural relativists; they are 
attacking our present notion of rationality from within, and this 
is what the reader feels and is troubled by. 

Cultural relativism is not a new doctrine at all. Anthropolo- 
gists have been preaching cultural relativism to us as long as 
there have been anthropologists. But it would be a mistake to 
assimilate the relativism of Foucault to the older relativism. 

When an anthropologist preaches relativism to us, normally 
he cites practices and beliefs of an exotic tribe which initially 
strike us as irrational or repulsive or both, and proceeds to show 
that these actually promote welfare and social cohesion. In 
short, he shows (to the extent that the example is a reasonable 
one) that what is considered wrong or irrational in our society 
may actually be reasonable and right in different natural and 
social circumstances. 

Of course, the wrong conclusion is frequently drawn by 
anthropologists from their own examples (and some of the 
examples are rather less clear than the anthropologist thinks). 
Very often an anthropologist will say 'it's all relative', meaning 
that there is no fact of the matter as to what is right and wrong 
at all. And Richard Boyd has suggested to me that very often the 
motive is a political one; to convince us to stop destroying pri- 
mitive cultures by attacking our belief in the superior rationality 
and morality of our own. Unfortunately, the argument is very 
confused. The anthropologist's examples (when they are good 
ones) show that right and wrong, for example, are relative to 
circumstances, not that there is no right and wrong at all, even 
in specified circumstances. His argument against cultural impe- 
rialism amounts to this: other cultures are not objectively worse 
than ours (because there is no such thing as objective better and 
worse, according to him); therefore they arc just as good as ours; 
therefore it is wrong to destroy them. 

This argument equivocates. The conclusion requires that 'just 
as good as' means objectively just as good as (at least by our 
lights); but what follows from the non-existence of objective val- 
ues cannot be that everything is (in the required sense) 'just as 
good' as anything else, but rather that there is no such thing as 


Reason and history 

'just as good as'. If values really were arbitrary, then why should 
we not destroy whatever cultures we please? 

Fortunately, there are better grounds for criticizing cultural 
imperialism than the denial of objective values. The anthropol- 
ogist's motive may be a good one, but he has chosen the wrong 
argument. Another term on which he equivocates is the notion 
of being 'relative'. What his examples actually confirm is 
Dewey's 'objective relativism'. Certain things are right -objec- 
tively right - in certain circumstances and wrong - objectively 
wrong - in others, and the culture and the environment consti- 
tute relevant circumstances. About this the anthropologist is 
right. But this is not the same thing as values being 'relative' in 
the sense of being mere matters of opinion or taste. 

Still, freed of its conceptual confusions, the anthropologist's 
argument should not trouble us. We should welcome his obser- 
vations, for they tend to widen our sensibilities and attack our 
smug assumption of cultural superiority. But the very compari- 
son of Foucault's argument with the anthropologist's brings out 
their difference: Foucault is not arguing that past practices were 
more rational than they look to be, but that all practices are less 
rational, are, in fact, mainly determined by unreason and selfish 
power. The similarity of this doctrine to the older cultural rela- 
tivism is a superficial one. 

The fact is that the position we have been discussing caters to 
an intellectual temptation which is the product of our increased 
knowledge about and sensitivity to psychological and sociologi- 
cal mechanisms. The knowledge and the sensitivity are in part 
pretense and in part real; the temptation is to fall into the trap 
of concluding that all rational argument is mere rationalization 
and then proceeding to try to argue rationally for this position. 

If all 'rational argument' were mere rationalization, then not 
only would it make no sense to try to argue rationally for any 
view, but it would make no sense to hold any view. If I view my 
own assent and dissent as crazy behavior, then I should stop 
assenting and dissenting - something to which there can be no 
rational assent or dissent, only crazy parody of rational discus- 
sion, cannot be called a statement Like Sextus Empiricus, who 
eventually concluded that his own scepticism could not be 
expressed by a statement (because even the statement, 'I do not 

Reason and history 


know' could not be one he knew), the modern relativist, were he 
consistent (and how could one consistently hold a doctrine 
which makes nonsense of the notion of consistency?) should end 
by regarding his own utterances as mere expression of feeling. 

To say this is not to deny that we can rationally and correctly 
think that some of our beliefs are irrational. It is to say that there 
are limits to how far this insistence that we are all intellectually 
damned can go without becoming unintelligible. We do, for 
example, discuss just such doctrines as those advanced by Fou- 
cault; we make an effort to be impartial; we try to adopt what 
Popper calls 'the critical attitude', and actively to seek evidence 
and argumentation we might overlook, even when it bears 
against our own views. None of this would make the slightest 
sense if we did not think that these practices of discussion and 
communication, and these virtues of criticism and impartiality 
tend to weed out irrational beliefs, if not at once, then gradually, 
over time, and to improve the warranted assertibility of our final 
conclusions. Rationality may not be defined by a 'canon' or set 
of principles, but we do have an evolving conception of the cog- 
nitive virtues to guide us. 

It will be objected that this conception does not 'get us very 
far'. Rudolf Carnap and John Cardinal Newman were both 
careful and responsible thinkers, and both were committed to 
the cognitive virtues just mentioned, but no one thinks that one 
could have convinced the other, had they lived at the same time 
and been able to meet. But the fact that there is no way to resolve 
all disputes to everyone's satisfaction does not show that there is 
no better and worse in such a case. Most of us think that New- 
man's Catholicism was somewhat obsessive; and most philoso- 
phers think that, brilliant as he was, Carnap employed many 
weak arguments. That we make these judgments shows that we 
do have a regulative idea of a just, attentive, balanced intellect, 
and we do think that there is a fact of the matter about why and 
how particular thinkers fall short of that ideal. Some will say, 
'So what; we are no better off when it comes to resolving an 
actual dispute than if there were no notion of rational accepta- 
bility external to the views under debate to which we could 
appeal!' This is true when it comes to any one unresolvable dis- 
pute such as the Carnap-Newman dispute just imagined; but it 


Reason and history 

is not true that we would be just as well off in the long run if we 
abandoned the idea that there are really such things as impar- 
tiality, consistency, and reasonableness, even if we only approx- 
imate them in our lives and practice, and came to the view that 
there are only subjective beliefs about these things, and no fact 
of the matter as to which of these 'subjective beliefs' is right. 

Perhaps the analogy I have (occasionally) drawn between phil- 
osophical discussion and political discussion may be of help. 
One of my colleagues is a well-known advocate of the view that 
all government spending on 'welfare' is morally impermissible. 
On his view, even the public school system is morally wrong. If 
the public school system were abolished, along with the compul- 
sory education law (which, I believe, he also regards as an imper- 
missible government interference with individual liberty), then 
the poorer families could not afford to send their children to 
school and would opt for letting the children grow up illiterate; 
but this, on his view, is a problem to be solved by private charity. 
If people would not be charitable enough to prevent mass illit- 
eracy (or mass starvation of old people, etc.) that is very bad, 
but it does not legitimize government action. 

In my view, his fundamental premisses — the absoluteness of 
the right to property, for example — are counterintuitive and not 
supported by sufficient argument. On his view I am in the grip 
of a 'paternalistic' philosophy which he regards as insensitive to 
individual rights. This is an extreme disagreement, and it is a 
disagreement in 'political philosophy' rather than merely a 
'political disagreement'. But much political disagreement 
involves disagreements in political philosophy, although they are 
rarely as stark as this. 

What happens in such disagreements? When they are intelli- 
gently conducted on both sides, sometimes all that can happen 
is that one sensitively diagnoses and delineates the source of the 
disagreement. Often, when the disagreement is less fundamental 
than the one I described, both sides may modify their view to a 
larger or smaller extent. If actual agreement does not result, per- 
haps possible compromises may be classed as more or less 
acceptable to one or another of the parties. 

Such intelligent political discussion between people of differ- 
ent outlooks is, unfortunately, rare nowadays; but it is all the 
more enjoyable when it does happen. And one's attitude toward 

Reason and history 


one's co-disputant in such a discussion is interestingly mixed. On 
the one hand, one recognizes and appreciates certain intellectual 
virtues of the highest importance: open-mindedness, willingness 
to consider reasons and arguments, the capacity to accept good 
criticisms, etc. But what of the fundamentals on which one can- 
not agree? It would be quite dishonest to pretend that one thinks 
there are no better and worse reasons and views here. I don't 
think it is just a matter of taste whether one thinks that the obli- 
gation of the community to treat its members with compassion 
takes precedence over property rights; nor does my co-disputant. 
Each of us regards the other as lacking, at this level, a certain 
kind of sensitivity and perception. To be perfectly honest, there 
is in each of us something akin to contempt, not for the other's 
mind — for we each have the highest regard for each other's 
minds - nor for the other as a person -, for I have more respect 
for my colleague's honesty, integrity, kindness, etc., than I do for 
that of many people who agree with my 'liberal' political views - 
but for a certain complex of emotions and judgments in the 

But am I not being less than honest here? I say I respect Bob 
Nozick's mind, and I certainly do. I say I respect his character, 
and I certainly do. But, if I feel contempt (or something in that 
ballpark) for a certain complex of emotions and judgments in 
him, is that not contempt (or something like it) for him? 

This is a painful thing to explore, and politeness normally 
keeps us from examining with any justice what exactly our atti- 
tudes are towards those whom we love and disagree with. The 
fact is that none of us who is at all grown up likes and respects 
everything about anyone (least of all one's own self). There is no 
contradiction between having a fundamental liking and respect 
for someone and still regarding something in him as an intellec- 
tual and moral weakness, just as there is no contradiction 
between having a fundamental liking and respect for oneself and 
regarding something in oneself as an intellectual and moral (or 
emotional, etc.) weakness. 

I want to urge that there is all the difference in the world 
between an opponent who has the fundamental intellectual vir- 
tues of open-mindedness, respect for reason, and self-criticism, 
and one who does not; between an opponent who has an impres- 
sive and pertinent store of factual knowledge, and one who does 


Reason and history 

not; between an opponent who merely gives vent to his feelings 
and fantasies (which is all people commonly do in what passes 
for political discussion), and one who reasons carefully. And the 
ambivalent attitude of respectful contempt is an honest one: 
respect for the intellectual virtues in the other; contempt for the 
intellectual or emotional weaknesses (according to one's own 
lights, of course, for one always starts with them). 'Respectful 
contempt' may sound almost nasty (especially if one confuses it 
with contemptuous respect, which is something quite different). 
And it would be nasty if the 'contempt' were for the other as a 
person, and not just for one complex of feelings and judgments 
in him. But it is a far more honest attitude than false relativism; 
that is, the pretense that there is no giving reasons, or such a 
thing as better or worse reasons on a subject, when one really 
does feel that one view is reasonable and the other is irrational. 

It may be helpful to descend from the abstract level at which 
we have been discussing and consider once more a relatively sim- 
ple example. Consider the judgment that most ordinary people 
are prepared to make at most times, that peace is preferable to 
war. (Such judgments are never discussed by Foucault, just as 
they are never described by Swift, and for the same reason: both 
are satirists. Only social folly interests them, not -when it 
exists - social sanity.) There are no doubts about the sources of 
such a judgment. We are too familiar with the horrors of war, 
with what war does to adults and children, to combatant and 
non-combatant, to the very land and foliage. Even if this judg- 
ment springs partly from self-interest, that does not make it irra- 
tional, quite the contrary. 

Yet whole populations can make the opposite judgment, that 
war is preferable to peace, and not for reasons of legitimate self- 
defense. Aggression and fantasy can whip people up to a 
national blood thirst. But, again, what this shows is not that all 
value judgments are irrational, but only that some are; and that 
it is very hard to tell which are which when one is not able to 
put aside partisanship or criticize one's own beliefs (which is 
why we assign so much importance to impartiality and the crit- 
ical attitude among the cognitive virtues). 

That some value judgments are rational and objective does not 
mean that our abstract talk about Capitalism, Democracy, 

Reason and history 


Socialism, Rights, Autonomy, and so on, is not frequently non- 
sense. Even when what we mean to say about some general issue 
is right, frequently we have trouble expressing it well, especially 
if we are not trained in the expression of abstract ideas. The case 
of the anthropologist who says there are no objective values 
when what he means is that values are relative to circumstances 
is a case in point. Even when we do succeed in expressing what 
we mean to say effectively, there are powerful forces of a non- 
rational kind tending to sway our judgment. My purpose here is 
not to deny that power can corrupt our judgment and narcissism 
seduce it; it is to deny that we are helpless in the face of these 
powerful forces, so helpless that it would be idle (and in fact, 
self-deception) to attempt to judge with intelligence and justice. 
To say we can be rational is different from saying we can be 
infallible. On the contrary, as Iris Murdoch points out, the striv- 
ing for a reasoned and rational stance is essentially something 
progressive, something 'infinitely perfectible'. 4 

What I have said so far might, perhaps, be conceded by an 
intelligent moral relativist. A relativist need not be concerned to 
undermine the rationality of all 'value' judgments, or to defend 
Foucault's picture of history as a discontinuous series of 'dis- 
courses' or 'ideologies' which succeed one another for no 
rational reason. A more modest relativist might be happy to 
agree with Dewey 5 that some values are objectively relative — i.e. 
rational given the circumstances, the nature and history, of those 
who make them. What is important, such a modest relativist 
maintains, is precisely the relativity of all values. The 'objectiv- 
ity' he is denying is not the objectivity Dewey was affirming, 
which is simply the objectivity of any judgment that is warranted 
in its actual existential setting, but it is rather the objectivity a 
Plato would affirm, the spurious objectivity (the relativist would 
say) that purports to speak from an absolute point of view, apart 
from all circumstances and valid for all circumstances. 

If we are not content to accept such a modest relativism, if we 
feel troubled by Dewey's own ethical writings, it is not, I think, 
because we really do hanker for Absolutes. When 1 claim that 

4 The Sovereignty of Good, p. 23. 

5 See Dewey's Theory of Valuation, in The Encyclopedia of Unified 
Science, vol. II, no. 4, University of Chicago (1939). 


Reason and history 

Reason and history 


the murder and suffering of innocent people is wrong, I do not, 
I think, really care about the question whether this judgment 
would be valid for a being of a totally alien constitution and 
psychology. If there are beings on, say, Alpha Centauri, who 
cannot feel pain and who do not mind individual death, then 
very likely our fuss about 'murder and suffering' will seem to 
them to be much ado about nothing. But the very alienness of 
such a life form means that they cannot understand the moral 
issues involved. If our 'objectivity' is objectivity humanly speak- 
ing, it is still objectivity enough. 

What is of concern is that Dewey's doctrine of 'objective rel- 
ativism' cannot handle the case of the Nazi (although Dewey 
would have disputed this). We want to say that the Nazi's goals 
were deeply wrong; and the claim that 'this is true relative to 
your interests and false relative to the Nazi's interests' is just the 
kind of 'moral relativism' we find repulsive. Objective relativism 
seems the right doctrine for many moral cases; but not for cases 
where rights and duties are manifest and sharp and the choice 
seems to us to be between right and wrong, good and evil. 

Indeed, there is a sense in which the modern instrumental 
notion of rationality is itself 'objective relativist'. The core of this 
notion is a deceptively simple dichotomy: the idea is that the 
choice of 'ends' or 'goals' is neither rational nor irrational (pro- 
vided some minimal consistency requirements are met); while 
the choice of means is rational to the extent that it is efficient. 
Rationality is a predicate of means, not ends, and it is totally 
conflated with efficiency. Thus, Jones' preference for vanilla over 
chocolate ice cream is neither rational or irrational, but the 
action of choosing vanilla over chocolate on a particular occa- 
sion would be rational for Jones, given his 'preference ordering'. 
This conception, which goes back to Hume's dictum that 'reason 
is and ought to be the slave of the passions', and which deeply 
influenced Bentham, is widely assumed to be the right one by 
modern social scientists. It has played a role in welfare econom- 
ics and in many other areas. The modern economist's notion of 
a Pareto optimum is an attempt to have a notion of economic 
optimality which considers only efficiency of means, and 
involves no 'value judgments' concerning the goals of the various 
economic agents; this notion is of contemporary interest pre- 

cisely because the assumption is made that the choice of means 
is subject to rational criticism, while the choice of ends is not. 

This whole conception loses much of its persuasive appeal, 
however, when we see what an oversimplified psychological the- 
ory it rests upon. In the Benthamite scheme, goals, ends, prefer- 
ences are treated either as fixed individual parameters (i.e. the 
individual's learning is pictured as a process of learning to better 
estimate consequences and probable consequences of actions 
and to attain ends more efficiently, but not as a process of 
acquiring new ends) or as individual parameters which, if not 
actually fixed, change only as a result of factors which have no 
rational status and which the theorist cannot take account of. 

Bernard Williams 6 has pointed out that there are a number of 
ways in which an individual's goals, and not just the means he 
chooses to attain them, can be rationally criticized; ways which 
become apparent the moment we pass beyond this narrow 'Ben- 
thamite' psychology. 

The 'Benthamite' conception does allow one case in which an 
individual can be persuaded to abandon a goal (or, at any rate, 
to abandon pursuit of the goal) by rational criticism: this is the 
case in which he had misestimated consequences in the direction 
of badly underestimating the costs of attaining the goal (relative 
to other goals he has). This opens the door to a question which 
has to do as much with imagination as with propositional intel- 
ligence: the question of what it would actually be like, experien- 
tially, to attain the goal. Many human beings pursue goals they 
would not actually enjoy attaining or would not enjoy nearly as 
>long or nearly as much as they think. Even within a Benthamite 
framework, it would be possible to improve the account of 
rational decision making by taking into account the possibility 
of misestimating the actual existential feel of various goals. And 
this begins to introduce a sense in which goals themselves can be 
criticized as irrational, and not just means. 

Again, people often overlook goals they might pursue if they 
thought of them. Or, even if they think of them (or someone 
suggests them) they may lack the imagination (imagination 
again!) to visualize what the attainment of these goals would 

6 I am here summarizing a lecture titled 'Internal and External Reasons*, 
given at Harvard, Nov. 1978. 


Reason and history 

really be like - all the more if these goals are long-term traits of 
character, such as developing an appreciation of poetry. The 
man who prefers pushpin to poetry may not actually be able to 
imagine what it would be like to have a developed sensitivity to 
the nuances of real poetry, and if his intelligence could be raised 
or his imagination improved he might be brought to see that he 
is making a mistake. 

It is significant that the ability to rationally criticize one's own 
goals (and those of others) may depend just as much on one's 
imagination as on one's ability to accept true statements and 
disbelieve false ones. And it is significant that one's goal may be 
a long-term trait of mind or character, and not a thing or event. 

There are still further ways besides misestimating the real 
experiential significance of one's goals or of possible alternative 
goals in which one may make errors in the choice of goals. Wil- 
liams points out (reviving an observation that goes back to Aris- 
totle) that very often a goal is general (e.g. 'having a good time 
this evening') and the problem is not so much to find a means to 
the 'end', but to find an overall pattern of activity that will con- 
stitute an acceptable specification of the goal (e.g. 'going to a 
movie' or 'staying home and reading a book'). Whether one can 
think of creative and novel specifications of one's goal or only of 
commonplace and banal specifications will depend again on 
imagination and not just propositional intelligence. 

The problem, as Williams pointed out, is that even if one 
replaces the narrow Benthamite psychology with an account that 
does justice to all of these things, one still seems to be left with 
a certain relativism. Williams' example was a hypothetical case 
of a young man whose father wished him to undertake a military 
career. The old man appeals to family traditions (the males have 
been army officers for generations) and patriotism, but in vain. 
Even when the young man makes as vivid to himself as he can 
what it would be like to be an army officer, there is nothing in 
this goal which appeals to him. It just is not his end; and not 
because of some failure of intelligence or imagination. 

Even the case of the Nazi could be like this. Suppose the Nazis 
had won the war, so that we could not appeal to Germany's 
defeat as a practical reason for not being a Nazi. Perhaps some 
Nazis were simply lacking in knowledge of the actual conse- 
quences of Nazism, the suffering brought about, and so on. Per- 

Reason and history 


haps some Nazis would not have been Nazis if they had had the 
intelligence and imagination to appreciate these consequences, 
or to appreciate more vividly the alternative life, the life of a 
good man. But doubtless many Nazis would still have been 
Nazis, because they did not care about the suffering their actions 
caused and because no matter how vivid they might make the 
alternative life seem to their imaginations, it would no more 
speak to anything in them than the military life did to the young 
man in Bernard Williams' story. There is no end in them to 
which we can appeal, neither an actual end or even a potential 
one, one which they would come to realize if they were more 
intelligent and more imaginative. Even without 'Benthamite psy- 
chology', we are faced again with the problem of moral relativ- 

Let us consider a case less inflammatory than the Nazi case. 
Imagine a society of farmers who, for some reason, have a total 
disinterest in the arts, in science (except in such products as assist 
them in farming), in religion, in short, in everything spiritual or 
cultural. (I don't mean to suggest that actual peasant societies 
are or ever have been like this.) These people need not be imag- 
ined as being bad people; imagine them as cooperative, pacific, 
reasonably kind to one another, if you like. What I wish the 
reader to imagine is that their interests are limited to such mini- 
mal goals as getting enough to eat, warm shelter, and such sim- 
ple pleasures as getting drunk together in the evenings. In short, 
imagine them as living a relatively 'animal' existence, and as not 
wishing to live any other kind of existence. 

Such people are not immoral There is nothing impermissible 
about their way of life. But our natural tendency (unless we are 
entranced with Ethical Relativism) is to say that their way of life 
is in some way contemptible. It is totally lacking in what Aris- 
totle called 'nobility'. They are living the lives of swine - amiable 
swine, perhaps, but still swine, and a pig's life is no life for a 

At the same time - and this is the rub - we are disinclined to 
say the pig-men are in any way irrational This may be the result 
of our long acculturation in the Benthamite use of 'rational' and 
'irrational', but, be that as it may, it is our present disposition. 
The lives of the pig-men are not as good as they might be, we 
want to say, but they are not irrational 


Reason and history 

We do not want to say that it is just a matter of taste whether 
one lives a better or worse life. We don't see how we can say that 
it is rational to choose the better life and irrational to choose the 
worse. Yet not saying some such things seems precisely to be 
saying that 'it's all relative'; the ground crumbles beneath our 

Perhaps some of the corrections to Benthamite psychology 
suggested by Bernard Williams will help with this case. Let us 
assume the pig-men are born with normal human potential (if 
they aren't, then their lives aren't 'worse than they might be', 
and we are not justified in feeling contempt, but only, at most, 
pity). Then they might be led to appreciate artistic, scientific, and 
spiritual aspects of life; to live more truly human lives, so to 
speak. And if any of them did this, they would doubtless prefer 
those lives (even though they might be less fun) to the lives they 
are now living. People who live swinish lives feel shame when 
they come to live more human lives; people who live more 
human lives do not feel ashamed that they did when they sink 
into swinishness. These facts give one grounds for thinking that 
the pig-men are making the sort of error, the sort of cognitive 
short-fall, that Williams discussed; grounds for thinking that 
they have overlooked alternative goals, and certainly grounds 
for thinking that they have never made vivid to themselves what 
realization of those alternative goals would be like. In short, one 
cannot really say that they have chosen the worse life; for they 
never had an adequate conception of the better. 

While this might give us a handle on the notion that those 
peoples' lives are open to rational criticism, it is not evident how 
to apply it to the case of the Nazi. (One could make it a tautol- 
ogy that anyone who doesn't actually choose the better life 
hasn't 'adequately conceived' it; but such a maneuver would 
clearly be no help.) Even in the case of the pig-men, if they were 
ideologically fanatic pig-men, as opposed to mere pig-men, then 
our point about the direction of shame might not hold. There 
might not, in such a case, be any end that is theirs, even latently, 
to which we could appeal. 

Our reluctance to accuse the pig-men of a defect in reason 
(unless we can point to some end that is theirs, at least latently, 
which they are failing to achieve) is the product of the recent 
vicissitudes of the notion of reason in our culture, as is easy to 

Reason and history 


establish. For neither ancient philosophers nor the medievals 
saw anything strange about saying that if A is a better life than 
B then that fact is a reason, the best possible reason, for choosing 
A over B. We have lost the ability to see how the goodness of an 
end can make it rational to choose that end. 

Of course, this is very largely explained by the fact that we 
don't regard 'goodness' as anything objective. But now we are 
confronted with a circle, or rather two curves. There is the mod- 
ern circle: the instrumentalist conception of rationality supports 
the claim that the goodness of an end doesn't particularly make 
it irrational not to choose that end, or to choose an end which is 
downright bad, which in turn supports the claim that goodness 
and badness are not objective, which in turn supports the claim 
that the instrumentalist notion of rationality is the only intelli- 
gible one. And there is the traditional arch: reason is a faculty 
which chooses ends on the basis of their goodness (as opposed 
to the 'passions', which try to dictate ends on the basis of the 
appetites; or 'inclination'); a claim which supports the view that 
it is rational to choose the good, which in turn supports the 
claim that goodness and badness are objective. Clearly we can- 
not simply go back to the ancient or medieval world- view, what- 
ever conservatives might wish; but is the Benthamite circle really 
the only alternative left to us? 


The impact of science on 
modern conceptions of rationality 

If the discussion that we have reviewed — and it is a discussion 
that has been going on for many decades — seems inconclusive, 
it is perhaps because the discussion always assumes a kind of 
priority of rationality over goodness. The question is always 
whether there is any sense in which it can be called irrational to 
choose a bad end, as if goodness were on trial and rationality 
were the judge. To assume this stance, especially when one's 
assumptions about rationality are a largely unexamined collec- 
tion of cultural myths and prejudices, is to prejudge the question 
of the status of value judgments in advance. In the remainder of 
this essay I propose to reverse the terms of the comparison and 
to ask not how rational is goodness, but why is it good to be 
rational? Asking what value rationality itself has will both force 
us to become clearer about the nature of rationality itself and 
about the assumptions we are prone to make concerning ration- 
ality and may enable us to see what is wrong with the way we 
think about the former question. 

Let us recall that when Max Weber introduced the modern 
fact-value distinction, his argument against the objectivity of 
value judgments was precisely that it is not possible to establish 
the truth of a value judgment to the satisfaction of all possible 
rational persons. * From the very beginning it was the impossi- 

1 Cf. especially 'Die Objektivitat sozialwissenschaftlicher Erkenntnis', in 
Archiv fur Soztalwiss. und Sozialpolitik, vol. 19 (1904), pp. 24-87, 
and *Der Sinn der Wertfreiheit der soziologischen und okonomischen 
Wissenschaften', in Logos, VII (1917), pp. 49-88 and 'Wissenschaft 
als BeruP, Vortrag, 1919. All three texts were reprinted in The 
Methodology of the Social Sciences, Glencoe, Illinois, 1949. 

The impact of science 


bility, or alleged impossibility, of rational proof that cast value 
judgments into a somewhat suspect light. Rationality has been 
putting value on trial for a long time. And in this context, ration- 
ality always means scientific rationality; 2 it is the results of 'pos- 
itive science' that are said to be such that they can be established 
to the satisfaction of all rational persons. One reason for valuing 
rationality is obvious. Scientific rationality undeniably aids us in 
achieving various practical goals. While few educated people 
would subscribe to the view that we ought to pursue science 
solely for the sake of technological success, there is no doubt 
that the technological success of science is overwhelming in the 
most literal sense of the word. We live in an apparently endless 

2 K. O. Apel reads Weber as I do in 'The Common Presuppositions of 
Hermeneutics and Ethics: Types of Rationality Beyond Science and 
Technology', Research in Phenomenology ', No. IX, 1979. Thus Apel 
writes (p. 36): 

Max Weber, however, also proposed a strictly negative answer 
with regard to my question as to possible types of rationality 
beyond value-free science and technology. And this answer has 
become paradigmatic, I suggest, for the present system of Western 
ideology. Weber restricted the scope of methodical understanding 
to 'value-free' understanding which he centered around the 'ideal 
type* of 'purposive-rational understanding' of 'purposive- 
rational actions'. Now 'purposive-rational actions' may also be 
called 'instrumental actions'; and in those cases where these 
actions are successful, they may be analyzed or reconstructed as 
being based on successful transpositions of the if-then-rules of 
nomological science into the if-then-rules of technological pre- 
scriptions. Hence Max Weber thus restricted the business of 
methodical understanding to the attempt of grasping the (value- 
free) technological means-ends-rationality beyond the human 
actions. And it is this idea of instrumental rationality which 
indeed constituted Weber's paradigm of rationality in a restrictive 

It has to be pointed out, though, that for a purposive-national 
understanding in sociology it is not necessary to fulfill the maxi- 
mal requirement of making sure that the agent succeeded in 
transposing nomological rules into his technological maxims 
about means-ends-relations. In order to understand his actions in 
the light of that type of instrumental rationality, it is enough to 
make sure that it was rational for the agent to act as he did under 
the presupposition of his aims and his beliefs about means or 
ways or strategies as being suited to reaching his aims. Thus it 
becomes the empiric-hermeneutic business of understanding to 
hypothetically find out and verify those goal-intentions and 
means-beliefs on the side of the agent, in the light of which his 
actions can be understood as being rational in the sense of tech- 
nological means-ends rationality. 


The impact of science 

series of technological revolutions - 'the Industrial Revolution', 
'the Electronic Revolution' - which constantly remind us how 
momentous a force science is in shaping our lives. Even before 
the Industrial Revolution the apparently unique success of New- 
tonian physics impressed a number of minds. For example, when 
the notion of 'progress' first began to be discussed in the seven- 
teenth century, the progressivists clinched their case with the 
claim that 'Newton knew more than Aristotle.' No one could 
argue convincingly that Shakespeare is a better dramatist than 
any of the ancient tragedians, or a better poet than Homer; but 
it seemed undeniable that the scientist Newton had made a real 
and undeniable advance in knowledge upon the scientist Aris- 

Although the encyclopedists and others were quick to gener- 
alize the notion of progress from science to political institutions 
and morality, that generalization has appeared as dubious to the 
twentieth century as it appeared evident to the nineteenth. 

Auguste Comte built a philosophy, positivism, celebrating the 
success of science. History, as Comte tells it, is a success story: 
we start with primitive myths, these become refined and purified 
until eventually the high religions appear, the high religions in 
turn give way to the metaphysical theories of a Plato or a Kant, 
and finally in our own day metaphysics itself has to give way to 
'positive science'. Evidently, there is no doubt who the hero of 
this success story is: the hero is Science. And if what impressed 
the Few about science from the start was its stunning intellectual 
success, there is no doubt that what has impressed the Many is 
its overwhelming material and technological success. We are 
impressed by this even when it threatens our very lives. 

One reason, then, for doubting that value judgments have any 
cognitive status is that they cannot be 'verified by the methods of 
science', as it gets put over and over again. Then too there is the 
fact, that we have already seen play a central role in Foucault's 
discussion, that one cannot get universal, or even majority, 
agreement on ethical matters. Whether abortion is right or 
wrong or whether homosexuality is right or wrong do not seem 
to be questions on which some answer can be demonstrated to 
everyone's satisfaction; whereas it is widely believed that the 
correctness of a scientific theory can be demonstrated to every- 
one's satisfaction. The very rationality of science itself is some- 

The impact of science 


times thought to consist, or to consist in part, in the fact that at 
least the predictions of science can be publicly demonstrated; 
that everyone can be brought to agree that these results do 
obtain, that the phenomena predicted by the theory do occur. Of 
course there is a threat of circularity here: if we identify rational 
procedures as those which lead to conclusions on which we can 
get majority assent, then Weber's argument, even if correct, that 
in ethical matters one cannot get the consent of all rational peo- 
ple, would mean that one cannot get consent of all those who 
use methods which are guaranteed to produce the assent of the 
majority or the overwhelming majority. That is, the way in 
which we determine that value judgments cannot be verified to 
the satisfaction of all rational people is simply by observing that 
they cannot be verified to the satisfaction of the overwhelming 
majority of all people. It is not, after all, as if we had a test for 
rationality; Weber's formulation suggests that somehow we first 
take a headcount of those members of the population who are 
rational and then see whether or not they can all be brought to 
agree on whether or not some value judgment is true. But noth- 
ing like this really goes on. All that Weber's examples (Chinese 
Mandarins and so on) really show is that value judgments can- 
not be verified to the satisfaction of all educated people or all 
intelligent people (which is by no means the same thing as all 
rational people). In a disguised form Weber's argument is a 
Majoritarian argument; he is appealing to the fact that we can 
get the agreement of educated people on 'positive science' 
whereas we cannot get such an agreement on ethical values. It is 
interesting to contrast this stance with Aristotle's: Aristotle said 
that of course in ethics we should always try to get the agreement 
of the Many, but very often we know that realistically we can- 
not. Sometimes, elitist as it sounds to present day ears to say it, 
we are only able to convince the wise; and of course we have to 
rely on our own judgment to tell who are and who are not the 


Of course it is not really true that one can get overwhelming 
agreement on the truth of an arbitrary accepted scientific theory. 
The fact is that most people are woefully ignorant of science and 
many theories, especially in the exact sciences, require so much 
mathematics for their comprehension that most people are not 
even capable of understanding them. While this is of course con- 


The impact of science 

ceded, to most people it does not seem to affect the point. For, 
according to the watered-down operationism which seems to 
have become the working philosophy of most scientists, the con- 
tent of the scientific theory consists in testable consequences, and 
these can be expressed by statements of the form if we perform 
such and such actions, then we will get such and such observable 
results. Statements of this form, if true, can be demonstrated to 
be true by repeating the appropriate experiment often enough. It 
is true that there are many difficulties with this account: experi- 
ments are much harder to design, perform, and evaluate than the 
layman may think. But there is no doubt that as a matter of fact 
it has been possible to achieve widespread agreement on the 
experimental adequacy of certain theories in the exact sciences. 
The layman's acceptance of these theories may be a matter of his 
deference to experts, but at least the experts seem to be in agree- 

Intellectually, of course, Instrumentalism does not simply in 
and of itself constitute a tenable conception of rationality. No 
doubt scientific results have enormous practical value; but, as we 
have already said, no educated person thinks that science is val- 
uable solely for the sake of its practical applications. And even if 
science were valued solely for the sake of its applications, why 
should rationality be valuable solely for the sake of applications? 
To be sure it is of value to have an instrument that helps us select 
efficient means for the attainment of our various ends; but it is 
also valuable to know what ends we should choose. It is not 
surprising that the truth of value judgments cannot be 'rationally 
demonstrated' if 'rational verification' is by definition limited to 
the establishment of means-ends connections. But why should 
we have such a narrow conception of rationality in the first 
place? 3 

3 Attributing just such a narrow conception of rationality to Weber, Apel 
writes {he. cit. t p. 37): 

This issue of Weber's methodology of 'understanding' was in 
perfect accordance with his (more or less implicit) philosophy of 
history. For in the context of his own reconstruction of the his- 
tory of Western civilization, he started out from the heuristic 
hypothesis that at least this part of history could be conceived of 
as a continuous progress of 'rationalization* and at the same time, 
as a process of disillusionment or, as he liked to say, 'disenchant- 

The impact of science 


Majoritarianism is also intenable. To be sure it is nice to 
get agreement on what one takes to be true. And it is always nice 
to avoid conflict with one's fellows. But people have lived for 
centuries with the uncomfortable knowledge that on some mat- 
ters one has to rely on one's judgment even when it differs from 
the judgment of the majority. Many have gloried in relying on 
their judgment when it differed from the judgment of the major- 
ity. The idea that on some matters, ethical matters among them, 
the considerations to be weighed are just so complex, and so 
imprecise, that we cannot hope to rely on anything like scientific 
proof or scientific definitions but have to rely on perception and 
judgment is an old one. And it is plausible that one of the highest 
manifestations of rationality should be the ability to judge cor- 
rectly in precisely those cases where one cannot hope to 'prove' 
things to the satisfaction of the majority. It seems strange indeed 
that the fact that some things should be impossible to prove to 
everyone's satisfaction should become an argument for the irra- 
tionality of beliefs about those things. 4 

Even if these conceptions are intellectually weak however, it 
seems to be the case that both Instrumentalism and Majoritari- 
anism are powerfully appealing to the contemporary mind. The 
contemporary mind likes demonstrable success; and the contem- 
porary mind is uncomfortable with the very notions of judg- 
ment and wisdom. I am not a sociologist, and I will not attempt 
to explore the question why industrial society, in both its capi- 

ment' ['Entzauberung']. By 'rationalization* he understood the 
progress in putting into force means-end-rationality in all sectors 
of the socio-cultural system, especially in the sphere of economics 
and bureaucratic administration, under the constant influence of 
the progress in science and technology. By the process of 'disillu- 
sionment' or 'disenchantment,' on the other hand, Weber under- 
stood, among other things, the dissolution of a commonly 
accepted religious or philosophical value-order or world-view. 
And he was prepared to draw practical consequences from this 
development for his personal world-view in so far as he suggested 
that a rigorous and sincere thinker had to accept the following 
insight: Human progress in the sense of 'rationalization' has its 
complement in giving up the idea of a rational assessment of last 
values or norms in favor of taking recourse to ultimate pre- 
rational decisions of conscience in face of a pluralism, or, as 
Weber said, 'polytheism' of last norms or values. 
4 Indeed, we saw in Chapter 5 that the consensus theory of rational 
acceptability is self-refuting! 


The impact of science 

The impact of science 


talist and its socialist versions, should be so taken with the 
themes of instrumental success and majority consent. But doubt- 
less the sociological fact has something to do with the ever 
increasing prominence of the conception that rationality equals 
scientific rationality, and the conception of scientific rationality 
as itself based on the demonstration of instrumental connections 
to the (potential) satisfaction of the overwhelming majority. 

If the conception of rationality we have just described, the 
conception of rationality as consisting in methods (whose nature 
is usually left rather vague) which, whatever their nature, result 
in the discovery of effective means/ends connections and the 
establishment of these connections 'publicly', is not as it stands 
intellectually tenable, philosophical attempts to make it respect- 
able have not been lacking. One of these attempts grows out of 
the older empiricism of Locke, Berkeley and Hume. By the time 
of Mill this empiricism had solidified into what philosophers call 
phenomenalism: that is the doctrine that all we can really talk 
about are sensations. Even everyday objects, e.g. tables and 
chairs, are really just sets of objective regularities in actual and 
possible human sensations, on this conception. As Mill put it, 
physical objects are 'permanent possibilities of sensation'. 
Another way to put the same idea is to say that all talk that 
appears to be about the physical world, or whatever, is really 
just highly derived talk about sensations. 

The virtue of this point of view, in the eyes of its holders, was 
that it enabled them to say clearly what the content was, not 
only of science, but of all cognitively meaningful talk whatso- 
ever. Any scientific theory is really just an 'economical' way of 
stating a number of facts of the form: if you perform such and 
such actions, then you will have such and such experiences. The 
holder of this view does not have to defend the untenable claim 
that scientists are interested only in applications, or only in the 
attainment of practical goals, and disinterested in knowledge for 
its own sake. The phenomenalist does not have to deny that we 
want to know the nature of black holes, that we want to know 
whether or not there was a Big Bang, what the true origin of 
homo-sapiens was, etc. We do want to know all these things and 
not just because knowing them might enable us to build better 
machines. But knowing these things is, although it takes refined 

philosophical analysis to show it, just knowing a great many 
facts of the form if you perform such and such actions, then you 
will have such and such experiences. Whatever our reason for 
being interested in them, all facts are ultimately instrumental At 
the same time, there seems to be no way of making out the claim 
that to call something good is to make any prediction of the 
form: if you perform such and such actions then you will have 
such and such experiences. Thus statements about the goodness 
or badness of anything have no cognitive meaning on this con- 
ception; in the words of the twentieth-century Logical Empiri- 
cists such statements are purely 'emotive'. Phenomenalism came 
to grief on two points, however. In the first place the claim that 
statements about material objects are translatable into state- 
ments about actual and possible sensations seems as a matter of 
fact to be false. Careful logical investigation of this claim, start- 
ing with the work of Carnap and the Vienna Circle in the 1930s, 
convinced the phenomenalists themselves that the claim was 
unfounded. Scientific theories as a whole undoubtedly lead us to 
expect that we will have certain experiences if we perform cer- 
tain actions; but the idea that the statements of science are trans- 
latable one by one into statements about what experiences we 
will have if we perform certain actions has now been given up as 
an unacceptable kind of reductionism. In the second place sen- 
sations are necessarily private objects; although we may be able 
in practice to decide whether or not someone had a sensation by 
simply asking them, we are immediately in some kind of epis- 
temological trouble if someone raises the question 'how do you 
know that the person associates the same sensations with his 
descriptions that you do?' If the content of science consists in 
predictions about what sensations any rational being will have if 
that rational being performs certain actions, then to know what 
that content itself means we would have to be able to tell, for 
example, whether extraterrestrials if we encounter any, have the 
same sensations that we do or not, etc. For this reason, philoso- 
phers like Rudolph Carnap and Sir Karl Popper insisted that the 
observational predictions of science should be stated in the form 
if anyone performs such and such actions, then such and such 
publicly observable events will take place - where both the 
actions to be performed and the observable events that should 


The impact of science 


The impact of science 


be expected must be described in terms of 'public' objects, e.g. 
meter readings, and not in terms of such private objects as sen- 

To sum up, the older empiricism, or phenomenalism, seemed 
to provide us with a tidy criterion of cognitive significance: a 
statement is cognitively significant if it is translatable into a 
statement about sensations. But it turned out that either the 
notion of 'translation' is hopelessly vague, or else that statements 
of science itself failed to satisfy this criterion of cognitive signif- 
icance. The trouble with drawing a sharp line between factual 
statements and value judgments on the grounds that the former 
but not the latter are 'translatable' into statements about sensa- 
tions is that the alleged translatability of the first class of state- 
ments has not been, and apparently cannot be, demonstrated. 
Empiricist reductionism drew a sharp line between the factual 
and the evaluational, but at the price of giving a wholly distorted 
picture of the factual. 

Our original purpose, however, was to consider answers to 
the question 'why is it good to be rational?' The first answer we 
considered, and rejected as too narrow, was that rationality 
enables us to discover reliable means/ends connections. Phenom- 
enalism came into the story because if phenomenalism were true 
then the apparent conflict between being interested in a scientific 
theory for the sake of its instrumental consequences, and being 
interested in the theory in order to learn what it tells us about 
natural processes would dissolve. The conflict between instru- 
mental interests and purely theoretical interests could in a sense 
be finessed. Of course there would still be some kind of differ- 
ence between these interests; but even purely theoretical interests 
would be interests in facts which, in the ultimate logical analysis, 
would have been revealed to be of an instrumental nature. All 
knowledge worthy of the name would have been shown to be 
knowledge of means/ends connections; it is just that when we 
are interested in the means/ends connection because we hope to 
exploit it for the attainment of some goal, then we call our inter- 
ests 'practical', and when we are interested in knowing the 
means/ends connection out of pure curiosity then we call it a 
theoretical interest. This attempt to reduce all the statements of 
science to statements of the form if you perform action A then 
you will get result B has, as we remarked, failed. 

The contention of Carnap and Popper, that the observation 
statements of science are couched in physical thing language and 
not in sensation language, is obviously correct if taken as a gen- 
eralization about the practice of scientists. When it is erected 
into an epistemological absolute, however, its import becomes 
rather momentous. For one thing, if no observation statement at 
all is allowed to talk about sensations, then introspection is ruled 
out as a mode of scientific observation. Although many psychol- 
ogists would agree that it should be ruled out, the fact is that 
some psychologists, undeterred by both philosophical and psy- 
chological dogma, have gone on performing experiments which 
involve at least in part reliance on introspective reports. In fact, 
Carnap would not have been as dogmatic in prohibiting this as 
some behaviorist psychologists were; he would have permitted 
the use of sensation reports, provided that they were construed 
not as observation reports but as behavioral data, the 'behavior' 
being the making of the verbal reports themselves. But what it 
means to construe the acceptance of an introspective report as 
an 'inference from verbal behavior' is not altogether clear. Even 
in the case of reports which are not about sensations but about 
physical objects, e.g. 'there is a table in front of me', we do not 
normally accept the report unless we have some theory accord- 
ing to which the person was in a position to observe the fact that 
he reports. In this sense it is a part of our whole demand for 
coherence in our world picture that observations should them- 
selves be theoretically explainable; if someone claims to have 
observed that there was a table in a certain place by clairvoyance 
we do not accept this 'observation report' because it does not 
cohere with our total body of theory. In this sense every obser- 
vation report has some component which could be described as 
'inferential'. On the other hand, when, say, a doctor accepts the 
report of a patient that the patient feels pain, it is hard to know 
on the basis of what 'scientific theory' the doctor infers that the 
patient feels pain from the patient's verbal report; if the general 
assumption that people are in a good position to tell whether or 
not they have a pain counts as a theory, then the general assump- 
tion that people are in a good position to tell whether or not 
there is a table in front of them also counts as a theory; but it is 
hard to see that there is any fundamental methodological differ- 
ence between accepting someone's say so that there was a table 


The impact of science 

in front of them and accepting someone's say so that they had a 

Popper and Carnap would reply that the methodological dif- 
ference is that the former statement but not the latter is publicly 
checkable; but they both exaggerate the extent to which obser- 
vation reports about physical objects are always publicly check- 
able. Many such reports are made with the aid of instruments 
which it takes a good deal of training to use. (It is notorious that 
learning to 'see' through a very high-powered microscope 
requires a good deal of specialized training and skill and that not 
everyone is capable of acquiring the skill.) What accepting this 
epistemological dogma does is make it a part of the definition of 
rationality that rational beliefs are capable of being publicly 
checked. Making it part of the definition of rationality is very 
convenient; it makes it unnecessary to provide any argument for 
this contention. Perhaps the argument is, at bottom, that what- 
ever is not publicly checkable may become a matter of disagree- 
ment, and that wherever there is unsettleable disagreement there 
is no being right or wrong. But this would assume what I have 
called Majoritarianism, that is the idea that it is built into the 
very notion of rationality that what is rationally verifiable is ver- 
ifiable to the satisfaction of the overwhelming majority. 

The fact that Logical Empiricism was fundamentally a sophis- 
ticated expression of the broad cultural tendencies to instrumen- 
talism and majoritarianism becomes evident, I think, in the later 
history of this movement. Although the Logical Empiricists had 
abandoned phenomenalism as early as 1936, for the next twenty 
years, that is until the movement began to break up and disap- 
pear as a recognizable philosophical tendency, Logical Empiri- 
cist philosophers of science were fond of talking about 'the aim 
of science' and fond of identifying the aim of science with pre- 
diction (with some additions and qualifications which I shall dis- 
cuss in a moment). The idea that the aim of science is prediction 
was the fundamental idea of positivism from its beginnings in 
the writings of Auguste Comte. As we saw, this idea had at least 
some kind of serious philosophical rationale as long as phenom- 
enalism was in vogue; for then one could argue that all cogni- 
tively meaningful statements were predictions in disguise, or 
infinite sets of predictions in disguise. The reappearance of this 

The impact of science 


doctrine, after the disappearance of phenomenalism, is like the 
appearance of 'primitive' material in a patient's associations in 
therapy, after the 'defenses' have been stripped away. To say 
that the aim of science is successful prediction (or successful pre- 
diction plus something simply described as 'simplicity'), seems 
dangerously close to saying that science is pursued only for prac- 
tical goals; and this is something that no philosopher has wanted 
to be put in the position of maintaining. Indeed, the philosophers 
who defended a purely instrumentalist conception of science did 
so not because they were themselves worshippers of the practi- 
cal, or narrow minded men who could not appreciate the beauty 
of abstract scientific knowledge for its own sake, but they did so 
rather because they felt that by identifying what is 'cognitively 
significant' with what has value for the making of predictions 
they could once and for all rule out all forms of obscurantism 
and metaphysics. 'Metaphysics' was for these philosophers sim- 
ply another name for various kinds of transcendental specula- 
tion; it was religious and 'metaphysical' speculations (in their 
sense of 'metaphysical') that they were afraid of. 

I am suggesting that the appearance in the culture of a philo- 
sophical tendency which was hypnotized by the success of sci- 
ence to such an extent that it could not conceive of the possibility 
of knowledge and reason outside of what we are pleased to call 
the sciences is something that was to be expected given the enor- 
mously high prestige that science has in the general culture, and 
given the declining prestige of religion, absolute ethics, and tran- 
scendental metaphysics. And I am suggesting that the high pres- 
tige of science in the general culture is very much due to the 
enormous instrumental success of science, together with the fact 
that science seems free from the interminable and unsettleable 
debates that we find in religion, ethics and metaphysics. 

Since, however, the professional philosophers who, as it were, 
rationalized the instrumentalist tendency in the culture were not 
themselves vulgar-minded or purely practical persons, it is not 
surprising that they themselves felt inclined to widen the descrip- 
tion of 'the aim of science' somewhat, so as more explicitly to 
leave room for aims other than just successful prediction. And 
so we find other aims being listed by Logical Empiricist writers 
in the 1940s and 1950s: the discovery of laws, retrodiction (i.e. 


The impact of science 

the prediction of past as opposed to future events), and the dis- 
covery of 'explanations', by which these writers meant simply 
the deduction of predictions and retrodictions from laws. 

What happened here is interesting. In order to make it explicit 
that science is interested in discovering laws of nature for their 
own sake, and not merely for the sake of the predictions to 
which those laws lead, these writers replaced the simple formula 
'the aim of science is successful prediction' with a list. The list 
is in fact open-ended: laws of nature turn out to include not only 
laws of nature in the strict sense, i.e. statements which it is phys- 
ically impossible to falsify, but also the so-called 'laws' of evo- 
lutionary theory, which are really descriptions of general ten- 
dencies which may at some time, owing to the action of 
intelligent life, cease to hold, and even statements about the 
purely contingent dispositions of individual groups and even 
individual organisms. To say that scientists are trying to discover 
'laws of nature', including physically contingent generalizations 
which hold for long periods of time and which have wide 
explanatory significance, such as those upon which evolutionary 
theory is based, or those upon which the science of economics is 
based, and seek to discover significant truths concerning the dis- 
positions of groups and individual organisms, and seek to organ- 
ize all of these into a deductive (and inductive) structure, is, of 
course, quite correct. But why this particular list? 

The reason for the list is that it is thought to be embracing 
enough to include all of the kinds of truths that scientists seek to 
discover, certainly in physical science, and narrow enough not 
to include any of the objectionable ('cognitively insignificant') 
material. The old search for a 'criterion of cognitive signifi- 
cance', such as 'a sentence is meaningful if and only if it is pos- 
sible to verify or falsify it', has been replaced by a list of types of 
statements, such that a statement is to be admitted if it is of one 
of these types and otherwise to be rejected. But why was this at 
all a plausible move for a philosopher to make? Even if it is true 
that all of the statements in the disciplines that we call 'sciences' 
are of these types (and it is not at all clear that this is the case - 
is historical explanation really just subsumption of retrodictions 
under 'laws'?), does it follow that the verification of these types 
of statements and just these types of statements is the aim of 
reason itself, and not just the aim of the special applications of 

The impact of science 


reason that we call the sciences? The answer, of course, is that 
these philosophers did not seriously doubt that 'science' 
exhausts reason. But why did they not doubt this? They did not 
doubt this because for them the opposition was not between sci- 
ence, in the sense of knowledge proceeding by essentially the 
methods of the empirical and mathematical sciences, and infor- 
mal reason, proceeding by methods which might be adapted to 
interests different than those of the sciences, but no less capable 
of having genuine standards. Rather the opposition was between 
knowledge proceeding by the methods of the sciences, and 
pseudo knowledge pretending to proceed by revelation, or some 
kind of funny transcendental faculties. Reason had to be co- 
extensive with science because What Else Could It Be? Never- 
theless the claim of these philosophers that reason is co-extensive 
with science landed them in some peculiar predicaments. Since 
they did not wish to deny that there is such a thing as historical 
knowledge, for example, they were committed to the position 
that history is a science, and even to the position that what the 
historian is really trying to do is to subsume individual state- 
ments about the past under laws - a claim about history that 
seems false on the face of it. 

It is, perhaps, not surprising that the Logical Empiricist ten- 
dency began to disintegrate by 1950. We have been looking at 
this tendency solely from the point of view of one question; the 
Logical Empiricists had a great many different philosophical 
interests, and they made many valuable contributions. Neverthe- 
less, from the point of view of the question we have been asking, 
which is 'what good is rationality?', the Logical Empiricist 
movement represented a reasoned philosophical defense of the 
view that the answer, and the sole answer, to the question is that 
rationality is good for the discovery of means/ends connections. 
The philosophical doctrine of phenomenalism provided the Log- 
ical Empiricists with an interesting philosophical defense of this 
claim. When the phenomenalism was given up, and the philo- 
sophical defense of the claim was replaced by the bare claim, and 
even more when the bare claim was made more 'reasonable' by 
allowing exceptions, modifications, etc., the whole cutting 
power of the movement disappeared. The trouble with the posi- 
tion that the aims of reason itself are the discovery of predic- 
tions, retrodictions, laws of nature, and the systematization of 


The impact of science 

all of these, and that these are all the aims of reason, is that there 
is simply no reason to believe it, I don't mean to say that there is 
reason to believe that it is false; if the notion of a law of nature 
is widened so that the discovery of laws of nature includes the 
discovery of dispositional statements about individual orga- 
nisms, and the notion of a disposition is so wide (or so vague) 
that the statement that a certain scientist is envious of his col- 
league's reputation counts as a statement of a 'disposition', and 
the statement that that scientist told a certain joke because he 
was jealous of his colleague's reputation is a 'subsumption of a 
particular event under law', then it may be that everything one 
says can be interpreted as either stating general laws or as sub- 
suming descriptions under general laws. Perhaps even saying of 
someone that he is morally good can be construed as ascribing a 
'disposition' to that someone. No, the trouble with trying to 
specify the aims of cognitive inquiry in general by means of a list 
of this kind is that the list itself has to be construed: if the terms 
in the list are construed in a more or less literal way, then the 
kinds of statements in the list would not even include all of the 
sorts of statements that scientists are interested in discovering, 
certainly not if 'scientist' includes historian, psychiatrist, and 
sociologist; while if the terms in the list are construed so leni- 
ently that there is no difficulty in construing the statements made 
by historians (and descriptive statements in the language of 
everyday psychology) as belonging to types included in the list, 
then the list becomes worthless. In any case, in the absence of 
any epistemological explanation of why statements of these 
kinds and only statements of these kinds should be capable of 
rational verification such a list would only be a mere hypothesis 
about the limits of rational inquiry. A mere hypothesis, whether 
in the form of a list or in some other form, could not have the 
exclusionary force that the Logical Empiricists wanted 'criteria 
of cognitive significance' to have. 

'Method' fetishism 

Since the answer to the question 'Why is it good to be rational?' 
cannot be simply that rationality enables one to attain practical 
goals, and cannot be simply that rationality enables one to dis- 
cover means/ends connections, we may consider another possi- 

The impact of science 


ble answer which has had a considerable amount of appeal at 
different times. Many philosophers have believed that science 
proceeds by following a distinctive method; if there is in fact a 
method with the property that by using that method one can 
reliably discover truths, and if no other method has any real 
chance of discovering truths, and if what explains the extraor- 
dinary success of science, and the persistence of controversy in 
fields other than science, is that science and science alone has 
consistently employed this method, then perhaps rationality, to 
the extent that there is such a thing, should be identified with the 
possession and employment of this method. The answer to the 
question 'Why is it good to be rational?' would then be that it is 
good to be rational because if one is rational one can discover 
truths (of whatever kind one is interested in), whereas if one is 
not rational one has no real chance of discovering truths, save 
by luck. Like the instrumentalists' view this view went through 
a philosophical history of rise, stagnation, and decline. From the 
publication of Mill's Logic in the 1840s until the publication of 
Carnap's Logical Foundations of Probability, influential philos- 
ophers of science continued to believe that something like a for- 
mal method ('inductive logic') underlies empirical science, and 
that continued work might result in an explicit statement of this 
method, a formalization of inductive logic comparable to the 
formalization of deductive logic that was achieved starting with 
the work of Frege in 1879. If such a method had been discov- 
ered, then even if this did not by itself prove that the method 
exhausts rationality, still the burden of proof would have been 
very much upon those who claimed that there were truths which 
could be justified or shown to be rationally acceptable by any 
other method. 

According to the most influential school, the so-called 'Baye- 
sian' school, the general character of this inductive method that 
philosophers have been trying to formalize is as follows: we 
assume or pretend that the language of science has been formal- 
ized and that scientists have available a certain number of relia- 
ble observations expressible by 'observation sentences' in this 
formalized language. We also assume that the various 
hypotheses under consideration are expressed by formulas of 
this language. The problem of inductive logic is taken to be the 
problem of defining a 'confirmation function', that is a probabil- 


The impact of science 

The impact of science 


ity function which will determine the mathematical probability 
of each one of the hypotheses relative to the observational evi- 
dence or, in another terminology, the 'degree of support' the 
evidence lends to each of the alternative hypotheses. Usually one 
assumes that one knows the probability that the given evidence 
would have been obtained if each of the alternative hypotheses 
were true; this is the so-called 'forward probability', i.e. the 
probability of the evidence given the hypothesis. What we wish 
to calculate is the so-called 'inverse probability', that is the prob- 
ability of the hypothesis given the evidence. Bayes' theorem gives 
this 'inverse probability' as a simple function of the forward 
probabilities and certain other probabilities, the so-called 'prior 
probabilities' of the alternative hypotheses, i.e. the probabilities 
or 'subjective degrees of belief assigned by scientists to those 
alternative hypotheses prior to examining the observational evi- 

The 'forward probabilities' are indeed easy to calculate in the 
two most common cases: they are easy to calculate when (a) the 
hypothesis actually implies the evidence (in this case the 'for- 
ward probability' of the evidence given the hypothesis is one); or 
when (b) the hypothesis is itself a statistical or stochastic hypoth- 
esis part of whose content is that the particular evidence 
obtained should occur with a certain probability r. The difficulty 
in applying Bayes' theorem - a difficulty so serious that both 
philosophers and statisticians are deeply divided over the impor- 
tance and usefulness of Bayes' theorem in the case of the confir- 
mation of theories — is the need for a prior probability metric, a 
set of 'subjective degrees of belief, in the terminology of De 
Finetti and Savage. 

Let us confine ourselves for the moment to hypotheses which 
are such that the 'forward probabilities' can really be computed. 
For hypotheses of this kind the method just described is indeed 
a purely formal method; that is we could program a computing 
machine to compute the degrees of support of the various hypoth- 
eses given the appropriate 'inputs'. But the inputs would have 
to include not only the computable 'forward probabilities', but 
also the prior probability metric in the given context. If we think 
of this prior probability metric as representing the scientists' 
antecedent beliefs about the world, as the term 'subjective prob- 
ability function' suggests, then it looks as if one of the inputs to 

the method itself is a set of substantive factual beliefs (or degrees 
of belief) about the world. This is the way in which many phi- 
losophers of science today view the matter; increasingly it is 
coming to be believed it is not possible to draw a sharp line 
between the content of science and the method of science; that 
the method of science in fact changes constantly as the content 
of science changes. Bayes' theorem, if it really does capture the 
logic of theory confirmation, provides a way of formalizing this 
dependence of the method of science upon the content of science, 
through the need for a prior probability function. 

To put the matter somewhat more abstractly, we might say 
that the 'method' fetishist assumes that rationality is inseparable. 
But Bayes' theorem indicates that this is not the case; that we 
can separate rationality, even in the area of science, even in the 
special area where we are dealing with theories for which the 
forward probabilities are computable, into two parts: a formal 
part, which can be schematized mathematically and pro- 
grammed on a computer, and an informal part which cannot be 
so schematized and which depends on the actual changing beliefs 
of scientists. Now it would be nice, to put it mildly, if the formal 
part of rationality sufficed to guarantee good results. If we could 
say that provided scientists make their observations carefully, 
gather sufficient observations, and calculate degrees of support 
according to Bayes' theorem, then eventually they will come into 
agreement even if they disagree at the beginning, owing to the 
difference in their subjective degrees of belief, then all would be 
well. But there are two things wrong with this happy picture. 

The first thing wrong is that even if we could show that in the 
long run the 'prior probability function' cancels out, or that sci- 
entists with different prior probability functions eventually come 
into agreement provided they continue to gather more evidence 
and to use Bayes' theorem, it would still be necessary that this 
convergence be reasonably rapid. If scientists with different prior 
probability functions will not come into agreement until the phe- 
nomenon to be predicted has already taken place, or until mil- 
lions of years have passed, then, in the short run, the fact that 
there is some mathematical guarantee of eventual convergence is 
useless; the trouble with long-run justifications is that the long 
run may be much too long. In the famous words of John May- 
nard Keynes, 'in the long run we'll all be dead'. The second thing 


The impact of science 

The impact of science 


wrong is that it does turn out, as a matter of fact, that differences 
in the prior probability function can lead to violent differences 
in the actual degrees of support assigned to theories, and that 
these differences can amount to what would ordinarily be con- 
sidered as gross irrationalities. 

To put this last point in another way, a scientist will only 
assign degrees of support to hypotheses that look 'reasonable' if 
he starts out with a 'reasonable' prior probability function. If a 
person only obeys the formal part of the description of ratio- 
nality, if he is logically consistent and assigns degrees of support 
in accordance with Bayes' theorem, but his prior probability 
function is extremely 'unreasonable', then his judgments of the 
extent to which various hypotheses are supported by the evi- 
dence will be (as scientists and ordinary people actually judge 
these matters) wildly 'irrational'. Formal rationality, commit- 
ment to the formal part of the scientific method, does not guar- 
antee real and actual rationality. 

The extent to which this is true is in fact rather shocking. 
Arthur Burks has in fact shown that there are even 'counter 
inductive prior probability functions'. That is, there is a certain 
logically possible prior probability metric such that if a scientist 
had that metric then as more evidence came in for a hypothesis 
(using the term more evidence on the basis of our normal induc- 
tive judgments) then the scientist would assign lower and lower 
weight to the hypothesis for a very long time. 

One way out of the difficulty might be to try to supplement 
the present formal account of scientific method by a further set 
of formal rules which would determine which priors are reason- 
able (henceforth, I shall refer to a prior probability function sim- 
ply as a 'prior', in conformity with common statistical usage), 
and which priors are unreasonable. But there does not seem to 
be any good reason to think that there would be a set of rules 
which could distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable 
priors and which would be any simpler than a complete descrip- 
tion of the total psychology of an ideally rational human being. 
The hope for a formal method, capable of being isolated from 
actual human judgments about the content of science (that is, 
about the nature of the world), and from human values seems to 
have evaporated. And even if we widen the notion of a method 
so that a formalization of the psychology of an ideally rational 

human scientist would count as a 'method', there is no reason to 
think that a 'method' in this sense would be independent of judg- 
ments about aesthetics, judgments about ethics, judgments 
about whatever you please. The whole reason for believing that 
the scientific method would not apply to or presuppose beliefs 
about ethical, aesthetic, etc., matters was the belief that the sci- 
entific method was a formal method, after all. 

My discussion has depended on assuming the correctness of 
one particular approach to formalizing the scientific method, the 
so-called 'Bayesian' approach. But similar problems arise in each 
of the other approaches that have been attempted. Even if one 
tries to isolate some small part of the inductive method which 
would not be as 'high-powered' as the confirmation of theories, 
and which would be more in line with what Bacon understood 
by 'induction', that is, even if one tries to isolate a method for 
confirming simple generalizations by examining a sufficient 
number of instances and 'projecting' the truth of the generaliza- 
tion, similar problems arise. Nelson Goodman 5 has shown that 
no purely formal rule for inductive projection can even be free 
from inconsistencies; before a formal rule can even hope to yield 
consistent results one has to have in advance segregated the 
predicates of the language into those one is willing to regard as 
'projectable' and those which one will treat as ' non-pro jectable'. 
The fact that even the most elementary part of induction turns 
out to have a part (namely the division of the vocabulary into a 
projectable and a non-projectable part) which is informal, again, 
strongly supports the conclusion suggested by our discussion of 
Bayes' theorem, that one cannot draw a sharp line between the 
actual beliefs of scientists and the scientific method. What Good- 
man did was to invent a predicate 'grue' which applies to things 
just in case they are observed prior to the year 2000 and green 
or not observed prior to the year 2000 and blue. Prior to the 
year 2000, everything which is examined and seen to be green is 
also examined and seen to be grue. Any formal rule of projection 
which told us that when we've examined a certain number of 
things, say emeralds, with a property P then we are allowed to 
infer that 'all emeralds are P' would permit us to make the con- 

s See his Fact, Fiction and Forecast, 2nd ed., Hackett (1977), first published 
in 1954. 


The impact of science 

tradictory inferences that 'all emeralds are green' and 'all emer- 
alds are grue'. And Goodman convincingly shows that all 
attempts to rule out 'bizarre' predicates like 'grue' on purely for- 
mal grounds cannot work. 6 

There is actually a close connection between Goodman's dif- 
ficulty in the case of Baconian induction and the need for a prior 
in connection with Bayes' theorem. Suppose the two hypotheses 
the scientist has to choose between (at some time prior to the 
year 2000) are 'all emeralds are green' and 'all emeralds are 
grue'. Let us suppose that the relevant evidence is that a great 
many emeralds have been examined and all found to be green 
(and hence all found to be grue as well). If the scientist computes 
the degree of support of the two hypotheses using Bayes' theo- 
rem then it turns out that he can either find a much higher degree 
of support for the normal hypothesis ('all emeralds are green') or 
a much higher degree of support for the abnormal hypothesis 
('all emeralds are grue') or an equal degree of support for both 
hypotheses, depending on his prior. If one's subjective probabil- 
ity metric assigns a much higher prior probability to 'all emer- 
alds are green' than to 'all emeralds are grue', then one will, in 
fact, behave as if one were projecting 'green' and not projecting 
'grue'. From a Bayesian point of view the need for a decision as 
to which predicates are projectable and which are not before one 
can make an induction is just a special case of the need for a 

Karl Popper has suggested that one should accept the most 
falsifiable of the alternative hypotheses; but it turns out that his 
formal measures of falsifiability will yield different results 
depending on which predicates of the language one chooses to 
take as primitive. Whether one thinks of the scientist, as Popper 
does, as trying to find the most falsifiable hypothesis that has not 

6 Goodman's own solution is to consider form plus the history of prior 
projection of the predicates involved in the inference (along with certain 
related matters, e.g. 'entrenchment' and 'over-riding'). On Goodman's 
proposal it would follow that a culture which had always projected such 
'crazy' predicates as his celebrated predicate 'grue' would now be 
perfectly justified in doing so - their inferences would now be induct- 
ively valid'! 

While I agree with Goodman that fit with past practice is an impor- 
tant principle in science, Goodman's version of this principle is too 
simple and too relativistic. 

The impact of science 


yet been ruled out, or thinks in the more conventional way that 
one is trying to compute degrees of support for hypotheses, the 
need for an informal element corresponding to a Goodmanian 
decision that certain predicates are projectable and others are 
not, or corresponding to the acceptance of a Bayesian prior, is 
still necessary. 

At this point the reader may wonder, if there is no such thing 
as the scientific method, or if the method, in so far as it can be 
formalized, depends on inputs which are not formalizable, then 
how do we account for the success of science? It is undeniable 
that science has been an astoundingly successful institution. We 
tend to feel that the reason for its success must have something 
to do with the differences between the ways in which scientists 
proceed to gather knowledge and the way in which people tra- 
ditionally proceeded to gather knowledge in the prescientific 
ages. Is this wholly wrong? The answer is that it is not. The 
alternatives that we have to choose between are not that science 
succeeds because it follows some kind of rigorous formal algo- 
rithm, on the one hand, and that science succeeds by pure luck. 
Starting in the fifteenth century, and reaching a kind of peak in 
the seventeenth century, scientists and philosophers began to put 
forward a new set of methodological maxims. These maxims are 
not rigorous formal rules; they do require informal rationality, 
i.e. intelligence and common sense, to apply; but nevertheless 
they did and do shape scientific inquiry. In short, there is a sci- 
entific method; but it presupposes prior notions of rationality. 7 
It is not a method de novo which can serve as the be all and end 
all, the very definition of rationality. 

One of the most important methodologists of the seventeenth 
century was the physicist Boyle. Prior to the seventeenth century, 
physicists did not sharply distinguish between actually perform- 
ing experiments and simply describing thought experiments 
which would confirm theories that they believed on more or less 
a priori grounds. Moreover, physicists did not see the need to 
publish descriptions of experiments which failed. In short, 
experiments were conceived of largely as illustrations for doc- 

7 Mill himself concedes this (in a remarkably grudging tone of voice) when 
he writes that we cannot expect the inductive method to work 'if we 
suppose universal idiocy to be conjoined with it' (Utilitarianism, Chapter 



The impact of science 

trines believed on deductive and a priori grounds; not as evi- 
dence for and against theories. Boyle wrote manuals of experi- 
mental procedure, he emphasized the need for a sharp 
distinction between thought experiments and actual experi- 
ments, and he emphasized the need to give a complete descrip- 
tion of all the experiments one performed, especially including 
the experiments that failed. Boyle was himself a disciple of the 
philosopher Francis Bacon, and Boyle was undoubtedly led to 
an appreciation of the importance of these rules by Bacon's 
inductive outlook; in fact, however, the specific instructions 
given by Boyle may have been more important or as important 
in shaping the course of physical inquiry as the more abstract 
and schematic defense of inductive procedure given by Bacon. 

Turning away from trying to establish theories a priori 
towards trying to test theories by deriving testable conclusions 
from them and performing experiments certainly was a meth- 
odological shift. As we have seen, however, we cannot simply 
identify being rational with believing theories solely because they 
are supported by carefully performed experiments. For one 
thing, even in science it is not always possible to perform con- 
trolled experiments. Sometimes one has to rely on passive obser- 
vation rather than on the kind of active intervention which is 
implied by the term 'experiment'. And, as we saw before, even 
when one has carefully performed experiments for the purpose 
of choosing among alternative theories, the estimation of the 
degree to which the experimental results support the various 
alternative theories is still a wholly informal matter. 

Against what we have been urging, Karl Popper has repeatedly 
argued that there is a distinctive scientific method, it can be 
stated, and we should rely only on it for discovering the nature 
of the world. 

Popper does think, however, that there are notions of ration- 
ality which are wider than scientific rationality and which do 
apply to the making of ethical decisions. 

In Popper's conception, set forth in his influential book, The 
Logic of Scientific Inquiry (Logik der Forschung), and in subse- 
quent publications, Popper has argued that the scientific method 
consists in putting forward 'highly falsifiable' theories; theories 
that imply risky predictions. We then proceed to test all of the 
theories until only one survives. We then accept the surviving 

The impact of science 


hypothesis as the one to go on for the time being, and repeat the 
entire procedure. Since the elimination of all the theories but one 
is made on deductive grounds - a theory is eliminated when it 
implies a prediction which is definitely falsified -no use of 
Bayes' theorem is required, and no estimation of degrees of sup- 
port is involved, Popper claims. 

One problem with Popper's view is that it is not possible to 
test all strongly falsifiable theories. For example, the theory that 
if I put a flour sack on my head and rap the table 99 times a 
demon will appear is strongly falsifiable, but I am certainly not 
going to bother to test it. Even if I were willing to test it I could 
think of 10 100 similar theories, and a human lifetime, or even the 
lifetime of the human species, would not suffice to test them all. 
For logical reasons, then, it is necessary to select, on methodo- 
logical grounds, a very small number of theories that we will 
actually bother to test; and this means that something like a 
prior selection is involved even in the Popperian method. As I 
remarked above, even Popper's computations of degrees of fal- 
sifiability are sensitive to which predicates one considers as 
primitive in one's language, and in that sense even the notion of 
falsifiability requires a prior decision analogous to Goodman's 
decision that certain predicates are 'projectable' and others are 
not. Let us waive these technical points, however, which are not 
of interest to us in our present discussion, in any case. Even if 
the Popperian method is incomplete, and requires to be supple- 
mented by a more intuitive method which we are not able to 
formalize at the present time, could it not be that it describes a 
necessary condition, if not a sufficient condition, for scientific 
rationality? Could it not be, in short, that a necessary condition 
for the acceptability of a scientific theory be that it have survived 
a Popperian test? The Popperian test itself may involve a prior 
selection of theories to test which is itself informal and for which 
we do not have an algorithm; the calculation of which theories 
are most strongly falsifiable may involve informal decisions for 
which we do not have an algorithm; but we could still insist that 
no theory be accepted unless a set of theories has first been 
selected all of which are intuitively 'highly falsifiable', and unless 
all those theories except the one which we accept have been sub- 
sequently refuted by carefully performed experiments. In short, 
could it not be that the advice we ought to give the scientist is: 


The impact of science 

proceed as Popper advises you should proceed, and, where Pop- 
per's methods are not capable of being formalized, rely on your 
intuition as to how the Popperian maxims should be interpreted? 
And might it not be the case that the Popperian method, vague 
and informal as it is in part, exhausts not only the notion of 
scientific rationality, but all of cognitive rationality, that is, 
might it not be the case that a statement is warrantedly assert- 
ible, or rationally acceptable, if and only if it is implied by a 
theory which can be accepted on the basis of a Popperian test? 
The answer is that such a conception of rationality is too narrow 
even for science. For one thing it would rule out the acceptance 
of one of the most successful and widely admired of all scientific 
theories, Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. This 
is a consequence which Popper himself is willing to accept with 
equanimity, but certainly the scientific community is not. The 
theory of natural selection is not highly falsifiable; it does not 
imply definite predictions such that if they come out wrong then 
the theory is refuted. We accept the theory of natural selection 
not because it has survived a Popperian test, but because it pro- 
vides a plausible explanation of an enormous amount of data, 
because it has been fruitful in suggesting new theories and in 
linking up with developments in genetics, molecular biology, 
etc., and because the alternative theories actually suggested have 
either been falsified or seem wholly implausible in terms of back- 
ground knowledge. In short, we accept the Darwinian theory of 
evolution by natural selection as what Peirce called an 'abduc- 
tion', or what has recently been called an 'inference to the best 
explanation'. This is exactly the kind of inference that Popper 
wanted to drive out of science; but scientists are not going to be 
persuaded by Popper that they should give up theories which are 
not strongly falsifiable in cases where those theories provide 
good explanations of vast quantities of data, and in cases where 
no plausible alternative explanation is in the field. Indeed, as I 
have pointed out in another publication, 8 Popper exaggerates 
the extent to which even the theories of classical physics are 
themselves strongly falsifiable. 

We weaken our description of the scientific method still fur- 
ther, then, by allowing the 'inference to the best explanation' as 

8 See 'The Corroboration of Theories', in my Mathematics, Matter and 

The impact of science 


a legitimate form of scientific inference-drawing, even when the 
'best explanation' inferred to is not strongly falsifiable in Pop- 
per's sense. The scientific method has now become a tremen- 
dously vague thing; 9 but this we expected to happen, anyway, in 
view of the formal results in inductive logic we described above. 
Could it be that the 'scientific method', described this vaguely is 
now exhaustive? And could it be that given even such a vague 
description, it is clearly the case that no value judgment is capa- 
ble of being verified or confirmed by this method? The answer is 
that if the scientific method is described simply as 'make experi- 
ments and observations as carefully as you can, and then make 
inferences to the best explanation and eliminate theories which 
can be falsified by crucial experiments', then it is impossible to 
see what cannot be verified by a method so vaguely described. 
Suppose, for example, I want to verify the statement 'John is a 
bad man.' I might argue as follows: 'The following are observed 
facts, that John is inconsiderate, that John is extremely selfish, 
and that John is a very cruel person. Someone who is incon- 
siderate, selfish and cruel is prima facie a bad person; therefore 
John is a bad man.' There are two points at which a defender of 
the view that 'value judgments' cannot be 'scientifically verified' 
might object to this argument. He might object to the last step; 
that is the step horn John is cruel, John is inconsiderate, John is 
extremely selfish, to John is a bad man. Admittedly this is a con- 
ceptual step; the claim is that there is a conceptual link between 
being cruel, inconsiderate, and selfish and being morally bad. 10 

9 Alternatively, we could restrict the term 'scientific method* to refer to the 
conscious application of maxims of experimental procedure, as I 
recommended in Meaning and the Moral Sciences, and just stop trying 
to make it so elastic that it can cover everything we call 'knowledge*. 

10 The fact that a truth or an inference is of the sort we call 'conceptual' 
does not mean that it must be purely linguistic in character (i.e. true by 
virtue of arbitrary linguistic conventions). Philosophers of many 
different tendencies have seen that concepts, fact, and observations are 
interdependent. As we remarked in Chapter 6, concepts are shaped by 
what we observe or intuit and in turn shape what we are able to observe 
and intuit. In these respects, the inference in the text involving 'good' is 
exactly analogous to the following inference involving 'conscious*. 'John 
is speaking intelligently, acting appropriately, and responding to what 
goes on; therefore John is conscious.' The conceptual link here is that 
'speaking intelligently', 'acting appropriately', 'responding to what goes 
on' are prima facie reasons for attributing consciousness, in just the way 
that inconsiderateness, selfishness, and cruelty are prima facie reasons 
for attributing moral badness. 


The impact of science 

Of course, if there are no conceptual links among the moral 
predicates then this is an invalid step; but why should one 
believe that there are no conceptual links among the moral pred- 
icates? It might be argued that the use of steps described as 'con- 
ceptual' in an argument is itself unscientific; but it surely cannot 
be maintained that there are no such steps in science itself. For 
example, if I make the inference from Newton's description of 
the solar system to the statement that 'it is the gravitational 
attraction of the moon that causes the tides' then I am employing 
my informal knowledge that there is a conceptual link between 
statements about forces and statements of the form A caused B. 
The word 'cause' does not even appear in Newton's description 
of the solar system and of the tides; but I know that the gravi- 
tational force that A exerts on B can be described as caused by 
(the mass of) A simply by virtue of understanding Newton's the- 

Of course, if we describe the scientific method as consisting in 
the drawing of 'inferences to the best explanation', or whatever, 
from 'observational statements' which are themselves in value- 
neutral language, then we can rule out 'John is inconsiderate' 
and 'John is selfish' as 'observation statements' (although, in 
particular cases, it might be easier to get agreement on these than 
on, say, whether an object is mauve). But such statements occur 
constantly in the writings of, for example, historians. That his- 
tory, clinical psychology and ordinary language description can 
really avoid words like 'considerate' and 'selfish' altogether is 
doubtful (and where to draw the line would be an immense 
problem: is 'stubborn' value-neutral? is 'angry' value-neu- 
tral? for that matter, is 'twisted her arm savagely' value-neu- 
tral?). But, in any case, to identify rationality with scientific 
rationality so described would be to beg the question of the cog- 
nitive status of value judgments; it would be to say these judg- 
ments are not rationally confirmable because they are value 
judgments, for rationality has been defined as consisting exclu- 
sively of raw and neutral observation and the drawing of infer- 
ences from value-neutral premisses. But why should one accept 
such a definition? 

Values, facts and cognition 

I argued in Chapter 6 that 'every fact is value loaded and every 
one of our values loads some fact'. The argument in a nutshell 
was that fact (or truth) and rationality are interdependent 
notions. A fact is something that it is rational to believe, or, more 
precisely, the notion of a fact (or a true statement) is an ideali- 
zation of the notion of a statement that it is rational to believe. 
'Rationally acceptable' and 'true' are notions that take in each 
other's wash. And I argued that being rational involves having 
criteria of relevance as well as criteria of rational acceptability, 
and that all of our values are involved in our criteria of rele- 
vance. The decision that a picture of the world is true (or true by 
our present lights, or 'as true as anything is') and answers the 
relevant questions (as well as we are able to answer them) rests 
on and reveals our total system of value commitments. A being 
with no values would have no facts either. 

The way in which criteria of relevance involve values, at least 
indirectly, may be seen by examining the simplest statement. 
Take the sentence 'the cat is on the mat'. If someone actually 
makes this judgment in a particular context, then he employs 
conceptual resources - the notions 'cat', 'on', and 'mat' - which 
are provided by a particular culture, and whose presence and 
ubiquity reveal something about the interests and values of that 
culture, and of almost every culture. We have the category 'cat' 
because we regard the division of the world into animals and 
non-animals as significant, and we are further interested in what 
species a given animal belongs to. It is relevant that there is a cat 
on that mat and not just a thing. We have the category 'mat' 


Values, facts and cognition 

because we regard the division of inanimate things into artifacts 
and non-artifacts as significant, and we are further interested in 
the purpose and nature a particular artifact has. It is relevant 
that it is a mat that the cat is on and not just a something. We 
have thecategory 'on' becausewe are interested inspatial relations. 
Notice what we have: we took the most banal statement im- 
aginable, 'the cat is on the mat', and we found that the presup- 
positions which make this statement a relevant one in certain 
contexts include the significance of the categories animatel 
inanimate, purpose, and space. To a mind with no disposition 
to regard these ^relevant categories, 'the cat is on the mat' would 
be as irrational a remark as 'the number of hexagonal objects 
in this room is 76' would be, uttered in the middle of a tete-a-tete 
between young lovers. 

Not only do very general facts about our value system show 
themselves in our categories (artifacts, species name, term for a 
spatial relation) but, as we saw in Chapter 6, our more specific 
values (for example, sensitivity and compassion) also show up in 
the use we make of specific classificatory words ('considerate', 
'selfish'). To repeat, our criteria of relevance rest on and reveal 
our whole system of values. 

The relevance of this discussion of relevance to the question 
raised in the preceding chapter ('What is the value of rational- 
ity?') is immediate. If 'rationality' is an ability (or better, an inte- 
grated system of abilities) which enables the possessor to deter- 
mine what questions are relevant questions to ask and what 
answers it is warranted to accept, then its value is on its sleeve. 
But it needs no argument that such a conception of rationality is 
as value loaded as the notion of relevance itself. 

It may be objected that I have lumped together factors that 
belong apart, however, and thereby masked a sort of sleight of 
hand. The very fact that I have spoken of two factors, rational 
acceptability and relevance, testifies, it may be claimed, to the 
persistence and permanence of something like the fact/value 
dichotomy. A rational person, on the conception the objector 
has in mind, would be one who could tell what was and what 
was not warrantedly assertible; what a person chose to regard as 
interesting, or important, or relevant might have bearing in eval- 
uating his character or even his mental health, but not his cog- 
nitive rationality, the objector would say. 

Values, facts and cognition 


Acceptability and relevance are interdependent in any real 
context, however. Using any word -whether the word be 
'good', or 'conscious', or 'red', or 'magnetic' - involves one in a 
history, a tradition of observation, generalization, practice and 

It also involves one in the activity of interpreting that tradi- 
tion, and of adapting it to new contexts, extending and criticiz- 
ing it. One can interpret traditions variously, but one cannot 
apply a word at all if one places oneself entirely outside of the 
tradition to which it belongs. And standing inside a tradition 
certainly affects what one counts as 'rational acceptability'. If 
there were one method one could use to verify any statement at 
all, no matter what concepts it contained, then the proposed sep- 
aration of the ability to verify statements from the mastery of a 
relevant set of concepts might be tenable; but we have already 
seen that there is no reason to accept the myth of the one 

The two-components theory 

Our present intuitions about rationality seem to be in conflict; 
certainly no one philosophical theory seems to reconcile them 
all. On the one hand, it is simply not true that we never judge 
ends as rational or irrational; on the other hand, when we are 
confronted with a case like that of the hypothetical 'rational 
Nazi' we do not see how to justify criticizing such an intelligently 
elaborated and considered system of ends as irrational even if we 
find it morally repellant. 

One way in which it has been suggested we might resolve these 
problems is the following: assuming a sharp fact/value dichot- 
omy, we can justify condemning the man who is only interested 
in knowing the number of hairs on people's heads as irrational 
on the ground that he has an inadequate perception of facts 
(what 'adequate' means is a problem, of course). The Nazi only 
disagrees with us about values, which is why he is not irrational. 
In between cases can be handled, perhaps, along the lines sug- 
gested by Bernard Williams. In particular, then, our argument 
against the method fetishist, that we cannot, without circularity, 
rule out of the 'observational evidence' such descriptive judg- 
ments as 'John is considerate', can be met by advancing the the- 


Values, facts and cognition 

ory that the ordinary language moral-descriptive vocabulary has 
two 'meaning components' simultaneously. One component is a 
factual component; there are certain generally accepted stan- 
dards for considerateness, and 'John is considerate' conveys the 
information that John meets those standards. 1 But there is also 
an emotive meaning component: 'John is considerate' conveys a 
'pro-attitude' towards a certain aspect of John's conduct. What 
can be rational, it is claimed, is the acceptance of the factual 
component of the statement 'John is considerate'; acceptance of 
the emotive meaning component, sharing the 'pro-attitude', is 
what is neither rational nor irrational. 

The notion of the 'factual' here comes from the individual phi- 
losopher's preferred view of the Furniture of the World. For a 
materialist philosopher, the 'factual' component in the meaning 
of any statement has to consist in a statement expressible in the 
vocabulary of physical science. But a difficulty comparable to 
the difficulty that plagued phenomenalism at once arises. 

Phenomenalism, we recall, was the doctrine that all meaning- 
ful statements are translatable without residue into statements 
about sensations. 'Physicalism' (as the type of Materialism we 
are discussing came to be called) was the doctrine that the whole 
'factual' meaning of any statement can be translated without res- 
idue into the language of physics. And, once again, the doctrine 
seems to be false. 

To see why, consider not a moral-descriptive statement but a 
psychological statement, say 'X is thinking about Vienna.' It is 
obvious that even if there are necessary and sufficient conditions 
expressible in terms of brain states or whatever for an arbitrary 
organism to be thinking about Vienna, it would take an 
unimaginably perfected neurological (or, perhaps, functionalist- 
psychological) theory to say what these are. The conditions for 

1 What 'standards' means here is a problem however. If the claim is 
that 'John is considerate* is descriptively true (i.e. the 'factual com- 
ponent* is true) if and only if most speakers would agree that John is 
considerate, then it would follow from this analysis of the 'factual 
component* that there cannot be a person whom a sensitive judge would 
correctly classify as 'considerate' even though most speakers disagree. 
Such an account of the 'factual component* would simply amount to the 
claim that all truths {at least about 'standards') must be 'public*, but 
why should one believe this unless one is a Majoritarian? (As we saw in 
Chapter 5, the claim that all truth is public is self-refuting.) 

Values, facts and cognition 


the truth of this statement are context dependent, interest rela- 
tive, and vague. There is no reason to think that even 'in princi- 
ple' there exists a finite expression in the language of physical 
theory which (in any physically possible world) is true of an X if 
and only if that X is thinking about Vienna. Not only might it 
be false that a finite equivalent in physicalist language exists for 
the ordinary language statement 'X is thinking about Vienna'; 
even if such an equivalent does exist, the equivalence would be 
equivalence on the basis of an empirical theory or group of the- 
ories which are themselves not known (perhaps they are so com- 
plicated human beings will never know them), and which are 
certainly not part of the meaning of 'X is thinking about 
Vienna'. In short, it is just false that 'X is thinking about Vienna' 
means f X is in such-and-such a (physically or functionally speci- 
fied) brain state.' 

What holds for f X is thinking about Vienna' will hold for any 
ordinary language predicate whose conditions of application do 
not mesh well with those which govern physical concepts. e X is 
considerate' — even 'X is brown', 'X is an earthquake', and 'X is 
a person' - are also not translatable into the language of 'physi- 
cal theory'. What this means is that, if there are two components 
to the meaning of 'X is considerate', then the only description 
we can give of the 'factual meaning' of the statement is that it is 
true if and only if X is considerate. And this trivializes the notion 
of a 'factual component'. 

To say that the 'two components' theory collapses is not to 
deny that 'X is considerate' normally has a certain emotive force. 
But it does not always have it. As we pointed out in Chapter 6, 
we can use the statement 'X is considerate' for many purposes: 
to evaluate, to describe, to explain, to predict, and so on. Distin- 
guishing the uses to which the statement can be put does not 
require us to deny the existence of such a statement as 'X is 

Moore and the 'Naturalistic Fallacy' 

Weber's claim that 'value judgments' cannot be rationally con- 
firmed was the source of the present fact/value dichotomy; but 
the dichotomy was reinforced by G. E. Moore (contrary to his 
own intentions). Writing at a time when Bertrand Russell and 


Values, facts and cognition 

John Maynard Keynes, along with other future members of the 
Bloomsbury group, were still young students, Moore argued for 
the thesis that Good was a 'non-natural' property, i.e. one totally 
outside the physicalistic ontology of natural science. His defense 
of non-naturalism backfired; his students may have been con- 
vinced by Moore that there were such things as 'non-natural 
properties' (although Russell, at least, was to lose the faith) but 
later philosophers of a naturalistic kind tended to feel that 
Moore had provided a reductio ad absurdum of the idea that 
there are such things as value properties. In the 1930s Charles 
Stevenson and the Logical Positivists were to advance the 'emo- 
tive theory of ethics', that is the theory that f X is good' means 'I 
approve of X, do so as well!', or something of that kind. Value 
properties began to be rejected on epistemological grounds, but 
even more on ontological grounds; as John Mackie 2 has recently 
expressed it, it is compatible with natural science that there 
should be such things as value attitudes but it is not compatible 
with natural science that there should be such things as value 
properties. Value properties, Mackie claims, are 'ontologically 
queer' - i.e. they are funny mysterious properties in whose exis- 
tence scientifically enlightened people should not continue to 

Moore's argument that Good cannot be a physicalistic prop- 
erty (a 'natural' property) was that if 'Good' is the same property 
as 'conducive to maximizing total utility' (or whatever natural 
property, physical or functional, you care to substitute), then 

(1) 'this action is not good even though it is conducive to 
maximizing total utility' 

is a self-contradictory statement (not just a false one). 

But even a Utilitarian would not claim (1) is self-contradic- 
tory. And this shows, Moore claims, that although being Good 
and being conducive to maximizing total utility might be corre- 
lated properties, they could not be the same identical property. 

Moore's argument turns on assumptions that I and many 
other philosophers of language would reject today, however. 
First of all, he implicitly denied that there could be such a thing 
as synthetic identity of properties. But, as I pointed out in Chap- 

2 Ethics, Inventing Right and Wrong, Penguin, 1977. 

Values, facts and cognition 


ter 4, this would rule out such accepted scientific discoveries as 
the discovery that the magnitude temperature is the same mag- 
nitude as the magnitude mean molecular kinetic energy. (One 
could use Moore's 'proof to show that temperature must be a 
'non-natural property', in fact. For one is not contradicting one- 
self when one says ( x has temperature T but x does not have 
mean molecular kinetic energy E', where £ is the value of the 
kinetic energy that corresponds to temperature T, even if the 
statement is always false as a matter of empirical fact. So, Moore 
would have to conclude, Temperature is only correlated with 
Mean Molecular Kinetic Energy; the two properties cannot lit- 
erally be identical.) In fact, Moore conflated properties and con- 
cepts. There is a notion of property in which the fact that two 
concepts are different (say 'temperature' and 'mean molecular 
kinetic energy') does not at all settle the question whether the 
corresponding properties are different. (And discovering how 
many fundamental physical properties there are is not discover- 
ing something about concepts, but something about the world.) 
The concept 'good' may not be synonymous with any physical- 
istic concept (after all, moral-descriptive language and physical- 
istic language are extremely different 'versions', in Goodman's 
sense), but it does not follow that being good is not the same 
property as being P, for some suitable physicalistic (or, better, 
functionalistic) P. In general, an ostensively learned term for a 
property (e.g. 'has high temperature') is not synonymous with a 
theoretical definition of that property; it takes empirical and the- 
oretical research, not linguistic analysis, to find out what tem- 
perature is (and, some philosopher might suggest, what good- 
ness is), not just reflection on meanings. 

An idea which came into philosophy of language a few years 
after I introduced the 'synthetic identity of properties', and 
which enlarges and illuminates the point I have been making, is 
Saul Kripke's idea of 'metaphysically necessary' truths which 
have to be learned empirically, 'epistemically contingent neces- 
sary truths'. 3 Kripke's observation, applied to the 
temperature/kinetic energy case, is that, if someone describes a 
logically possible world in which people have sensations of hot 

Kripke's Naming and Necessity, Harvard, 1980 (lectures originally given 
in Princeton in 1970). 


Values, facts and cognition 

and cold, there are objects that feel hot and objects that feel cold, 
and in which these sensations of hot and cold are explained by 
a different mechanism than mean molecular kinetic energy, then 
we do not say that he has described a possible world in which 
temperature is not mean molecular energy. Rather we say that 
he has described a world in which some mechanism other than 
temperature makes certain objects feel hot and cold. Once we 
have accepted the 'synthetic identity statement' that temperature 
is mean molecular kinetic energy (in the actual world), nothing 
counts as a possible world in which temperature is not mean 
molecular kinetic energy. 

A statement which is true in every possible world is tradition- 
ally called 'necessary'. A property which something has in every 
possible world is traditionally called 'essential'. In this tradi- 
tional terminology, Kripke is saying that 'temperature is mean 
molecular kinetic energy' is a necessary truth even though we 
can't know it a priori. The statement is empirical but necessary. 
Or, to say the same thing in different words, being mean molec- 
ular kinetic energy is an essential property of temperature. We 
have discovered the essence of temperature by empirical investi- 
gation. These ideas of Kripke's have had widespread impact on 
philosophy of language, metaphysics, and philosophy of mathe- 
matics; applied to Moore's argument they are devastating. 
Moore argued from the fact that (1) can only be false contin- 
gently, that being P (for some suitable natural property P) could 
not be an essential property of goodness; this is just what the 
new theory of necessity blocks. All that one can validly infer 
from the fact that (1) is not self-con tradictory is that 'good' is not 
synonymous with 'conducive to maximizing utility' (not 
synonymous with P, for any term P in the physicalistic version of 
the world). From this nonsynonymy of words nothing follows 
about non-identity of properties. Nothing follows about the es- 
sence of goodness. 

Ruth Anna Putnam has pointed out that another common 
argument that goodness cannot be a natural property does not 
work. 4 This is the argument that 'X is good' has 'emotive force', 
'expresses a pro-attitude', and so forth. 

4 'Remarks on Wittgenstein's Lecture on Ethics', in Haller et al (eds.), 
Language, Logic, and Philosophy, Proceedings of the 4th Intern. 
Wittgenstein Symposium, Vienna, 1980. 

Values, facts and cognition 


What is wrong with the argument, Ruth Anna Putnam points 
out, is that many descriptive predicates naturally acquire an 
emotive force. In our culture, 'slobbers his food all over his shirt' 
has strong negative emotive force although the phrase is literally 
a description. Any word that stands for something people in a 
culture value (or disvalue) will tend to acquire emotive force. 

The word 'good', in its moral sense, is applied to many things. 
Some of these - good states of mind, for example - may be nat- 
urally valued: it may be part of the content of that very state of 
mind that one values being in it. I don't mean to suggest the 
converse: that any state of mind that is naturally valued in this 
sense is good; that would be clearly false. Suppose 'good' were 
defined so that things which are naturally valued and are such 
that there is no good reason to disvalue them (as there is reason 
to disvalue certain drug- induced states which are naturally val- 
ued) count as 'good'. 

Then one would expect the statement that something is good 
to have positive 'emotional force' because of the nature of the 
property. Even if one is not a Consequentialist (i.e. one who 
thinks everything with sufficiently good consequences is good), 
there is no doubt that the most common reason for calling an 
action good is that it has good consequences, among which 
might be that it ultimately promotes states or situations which 
are naturally valued; again, the very nature of the property 
explains why the description comes to have 'pro' emotive force. 

Mackie defends his claim that goodness is ontologically 
'queer' by introducing as a premiss the assumption that one can- 
not know that something is good without having a 'pro' attitude 
towards that something. This amounts to assuming emotivism 
in order to prove emotivism. The devils in hell are frequently 
depicted as using 'good' with a negative emotive force ('He has 
a deplorable tendency to moral goodness' one of them might 
say); contrary to Mackie, I do not find such uses to be linguisti- 
cally improper or to involve any contradiction. And do we not 
hear people say, 'I know that's a bad thing to do but I don't 
care'? As Philippa Foot has pointed out, one can even rebuff 
appeals to morality by saying, 'I'm not out to be a good man.' 
What the possibility of these utterances shows is that while there 
is indeed a difference between the describing use of language and 
the prescribing use or the commending use, this difference in 


Values, facts and cognition 

uses is not a simple function of vocabulary. 'Descriptive' words 
can be used to praise or blame ('He slobbers food all over his 
tie') and 'evaluative' words can be used to describe and explain. 
(Consider the following dialogue: 'John must have been an 
exceptionally good man to do such a thing.' 'No, he had never 
been a moral paragon, if anything the contrary; but he must 
have had a capacity for self-sacrifice we never suspected.' Here 
moral language is being used in an explanatory function.) To 
repeat Ruth Anna Putnam's point again, nothing about good- 
ness not being a property follows from the fact that 'is good' is 
used to commend. 

Professor Putnam points out that there is, nevertheless, some- 
thing right about Mackie's argument. Some moral expressions 
undeniably do have a built-in orientation towards action. 
'Should', 'ought', 'right', and 'must' are prime examples of such 
'action guiding' words. The 'is/ought' problem is not the same as 
the 'fact/value' problem, as she points out. 'I am not out to do 
what I should' sounds much odder than 'I am not out to be a 
good man' (and 'I am not out to do what I must' sounds crazy). 

Mackie points out that no physical property has a built-in 
connection to action (or to approval of an action), and concludes 
that 'being the right thing to do', etc., are 'ontologically queer'. 
But (besides depending on the assumption that the physicalist 
version of the world is the One True Theory), this argument 
proves too much. For some epistemic predicates (e.g. 'rationally 
acceptable', 'justified belief) are also action-guiding (taking 
'action' in a wide sense, so that accepting a statement counts as 
an action). One can say, 'X is a good thing to do' and 'There is 
a good deal of evidence that Y* and not be committed to doing 
(or prescribing) X or to accepting Y; but if one says 'X is the 
right action to perform in this situation', or 'Believing that Y is 
completely justified', then one is oriented to doing (or prescrib- 
ing) X and to accepting Y. 'Justified' (in the case of beliefs) has 
the characteristic of being action-guiding as much as 'right' in 
the moral sense does. 

If we now mimic Mackie's argument and conclude that there 
is no such property as being justified, but only 'justification atti- 
tudes', then we land ourselves in total relativism. Before going 
so catastrophically far, we should pause to see why action- 

Values, facts and cognition 


guiding predicates seem 'ontologically queer' to a committed 

In Chapter 2, 1 argued that reference itself should seem 'onto- 
logically queer' to a committed physicalist. If only physicalistic 
properties and relations really exist, then reference, to exist, 
must be a physicalistic relation - but then the problem, as we 
saw, is an overabundance of 'candidates'. There are an infinite 
number of admissible reference relations (and all are physicalis- 
tic, or at least naturalistic, if we count set theory as part of the 
naturalistic version of the world). If one of these were the rela- 
tion of reference, then that fact would itself be an ultimate meta- 
physical fact of a very strange kind. 

What would make such a fact strange is that we have built a 
certain neutrality, a certain mindlessness, into our very notion of 
Nature. Nature is supposed to have no interests, intentions, or 
point of view. Given that this is right, then how could one admis- 
sible reference-relation be metaphysically singled-out? 

It is this same mindlessness of Nature that makes the action- 
guiding predicates 'is right' and 'is a justified belief seem 'queer'. 
If one physicalistic property ? were identical with moral light- 
ness or with epistemological justification, that would be 
'queer' - queer for precisely the same reason that it would be 
'queer' if reference were a physicalistic relation. It would be as if 
Nature itself had values, in the moral case, or referential inten- 
tions, in the semantical case. 

For this reason, I think that Moore was right (even if his argu- 
ments are not acceptable) in holding that 'good', 'right' (and also 
'justified belief, 'refers', and 'true') are not identical with phys- 
icalistic properties and relations. What this shows is not that 
goodness, rightness, epistemic justification, reference, and truth 
do not exist, but that monistic naturalism (or 'physicalism') is an 
inadequate philosophy. 

The 'rational Nazi' again 

What troubled us earlier was that we did not see how to argue 
that the hypothetical 'perfectly rational Nazi' had irrational 
ends. Perhaps the problem is this: that we identified too simply 
the question of the rationality of the Nazi (as someone who has 


Values, facts and cognition 

a world view or views) with the rationality of the Nazi's ends. If 
there is no end 'in' the Nazi to which we can appeal, then it does 
seem odd to diagnose the situation by saying 'Karl has irrational 
goals.' Even if this is part of what we conclude in the end, surely 
the first thing we want to say is that Karl has monstrous goals, 
not that he has irrational ones. 

But the question to look at, if we are going to discuss Karl's 
rationality at all, is the irrationality of his beliefs and arguments, 
not his goals. 

Suppose, first, that Karl claims Nazi goals are morally right 
and good (as Nazis, in fact if not in philosophers' examples, gen- 
erally did). Then, in fact, he will talk rubbish. He will assert all 
kinds of false 'factual' propositions, e.g. that the democracies are 
run by a 'Jewish conspiracy'; and he will advance moral propo- 
sitions (e.g. that, if one is an 'Aryan', one has a duty to subjugate 
non- Aryan races to the 'master race') for which he has no good 
arguments. The notion of a 'good argument' I am appealing to 
is internal to ordinary moral discourse; but that is the appropri- 
ate notion, if the Nazi tries to justify himself within ordinary 
moral discourse. 

Suppose, on the other hand, that the Nazi repudiates ordinary 
moral notions altogether (as our hypothetical Super-Benthamite 
did). I argued that a culture which repudiated ordinary moral 
notions, or substituted notions derived from a different ideology 
and moral outlook for them, would lose the ability to describe 
ordinary interpersonal relations, social events and political 
events adequately and perspicuously by our present lights. Of 
course, if the different ideology and moral outlook are superior 
to our present moral system then this substitution may be good 
and wise; but if the different ideology and moral outlook are 
bad, especially if they are warped and monstrous, then the result 
will be simply an inadequate, unperspicuous, repulsive represen- 
tation of interpersonal and social facts. Of course, 'inadequate, 
unperspicuous, repulsive' reflect value judgments; but I have 
argued that the choice of a conceptual scheme necessarily reflects 
value judgments, and the choice of a conceptual scheme is what 
cognitive rationality is all about. 

Even if the individual Nazi does not lose the ability to use our 
present moral descriptive vocabulary, even if he retains the old 
notions somewhere in his head (as some scholars, perhaps, still 

Values, facts and cognition 


are familiar with and able to use the medieval notion of 'chiv- 
alry'), still these (our present moral descriptive notions such as 
'considerate', 'compassionate', 'just', 'fair') will not be notions 
that he employs in living his life: they will not really figure in his 
construction of the world. 

Again, I wish to emphasize that I am not saying that what is 
bad about being a Nazi is that it leads one to have warped and 
irrational beliefs. What is bad about being a Nazi is what it leads 
you to do. The Nazi is evil and he also has an irrational view of 
the world. These two facts about the Nazi are connected and 
interrelated; but that does not mean the Nazi is evil primarily 
because he has an irrational view of the world in the sense that 
the irrationality of his world view constitutes the evil. Neverthe- 
less, there is a sense in which we may speak of goals being 
rational or irrational here, it seems to me: goals which are such 
that, if one accepts them and pursues them then one will either 
be led to offer crazy and false arguments for them (if one accepts 
the task of justifying them within our normal conceptual 
scheme), or else one will be led to adopt an alternative scheme 
for representing ordinary moral-descriptive facts (e.g. that 
someone is compassionate) which is irrational, have a right to be 
called 'irrational goals'. There is a connection, after all, between 
employing a rational conceptual scheme in describing and per- 
ceiving morally relevant facts and having certain general types 
of goals as opposed to others. 

'But what if the Nazi gives no reason for being a Nazi except 
"that's how I feel like acting"?' This is a natural question, but 
here surely the natural answer is also the right one: in such a 
case the Nazi's conduct, besides being evil, would also be com- 
pletely arbitrary. Notice that 'arbitrary' is one of the words I 
have been calling 'moral-descriptive', i.e. a word which can be 
used, without change of denotation, to evaluate (in this case to 
blame), to describe ('John quite arbitrarily decided to change 
jobs'), to explain (or to indicate that no explanation of a certain 
kind can be given), etc. Indeed, when I just said that Karl's deci- 
sion to be a Nazi (in the case described) would be completely 
arbitrary, I was primarily describing, not evaluating. Many 
things I do are, quite literally, arbitrary - e.g. choosing one path 
across the campus rather than another; but this does not mean 
there is anything wrong about these actions. (The matters are 


Values, facts and cognition 

simply too trivial.) Even if I do something important 'arbitrar- 
ily' -say, change jobs -if I don't have family responsibilities, 
etc., this may simply be my right But if the action is one that 
requires justification, then performing it arbitrarily and with no 
justification will expose one to legitimate blame. Making a deci- 
sion which adversely affects the lives of others (and perhaps 
one's own life) to a great extent with no justification, just as an 
arbitrary and willful (another of those moral descriptive words!) 
act, is a paradigmatic example of irrationality, and not just irra- 
tionality but perverseness. 

We started our discussion in Chapter 7 by looking at Ben- 
tham's claim that 'prejudice aside' the game of pushpin (an 
ancient children's game similar to tiddlywinks) is just as good as 
'the arts and sciences of music and of poetry'. In Bentham's view 
the only reason poetry is better than pushpin, ultimately, is the 
brute fact that poetry gives greater satisfaction than pushpin (or 
gives satisfaction to more people, or both). There are, basically, 
two things wrong with this view: one thing wrong is that 'satis- 
faction' (or 'self-interest') itself cannot be an aim of any being 
who does not have other aims. If I had no aim other than 'my 
welfare', then my 'welfare' would be a meaningless notion, a 
point which goes back to Bishop Butler. More important, some 
satisfactions are better and 'nobler' than others, and one can give 
reasons why. Poetry and music give solace, they enlarge our sen- 
sibilities, they provide important modes of self-expression to 
many people, including many of the most gifted people the 
human race has produced. Calling these reasons for valuing cer- 
tain satisfactions above others 'prejudice' is actually closely con- 
nected with both the 'two components' theory and the idea that 
value properties are 'ontologically queer'. Bentham is operating 
with the model of 'neutral facts' and arbitrary 'prejudices'. 
Indeed, calling the preference for poetry a 'prejudice' is just Ben- 
tham's way of suggesting that the fact that poetry gives greater 
satisfaction than pushpin is the only consideration that is not 
'arbitrary' in comparing the two; any preference for one kind of 
satisfaction over another (it is suggested) is arbitrary. But this is 
simply false, given the actual place in our conceptual scheme of 
the notion of an 'arbitrary' preference, and meaningless if 'arbi- 
trary' is wrenched out of the scheme to which it belongs. (Simi- 

Values, facts and cognition 


larly, the statement that preferring poetry to pushpin is a preju- 
dice is literally false.) It is being suggested that it is somehow 
ontologically legitimate to admit that there are such things as 
satisfactions, but not ontologically legitimate to admit such 
things as enlarged sensibilities, enlarged repertoires of meaning 
and metaphor, modes of expression and self-realization, and so 
on. The idea that values are not part of the Furniture of the 
World and the idea that 'value judgments' are expressions of 
'prejudice' are two sides of the same coin. 

We have investigated the question whether 'value judgments' 
can be rationally supported. We have seen that various negative 
answers rest on dubious philosophical assumptions: that ration- 
ality itself is only good for 'prediction', or only good for getting 
'consensus', or that there is only one Method for arriving at 
truth (where, sometimes, the only criteria for 'truth' are said to 
be prediction and consensus), or that value judgments have 'two 
meaning components', or that value properties are 'ontologically 
queer'. The position I have defended is that any choice of a con- 
ceptual scheme presupposes values, and the choice of a scheme 
for describing ordinary interpersonal relations and social facts, 
not to mention thinking about one's own life plan, involves, 
among other things, one's moral values. One cannot choose a 
scheme which simply 'copies' the facts, because no conceptual 
scheme is a mere 'copy' of the world. The notion of truth itself 
depends for its content on our standards of rational acceptabil- 
ity, and these in turn rest on and presuppose our values. Put 
schematically and too briefly, I am saying that theory of truth 
presupposes theory of rationality which in turn presupposes our 
theory of the good. 

'Theory of the good', however, is not only programmatic, but 
is itself dependent upon assumptions about human nature, about 
society, about the universe (including theological and metaphys- 
ical assumptions). We have had to revise our theory of the good 
(such as it is) again and again as our knowledge has increased 
and our world-view has changed. 

It has become clear that in the conception I am defending there 
is no such thing as a 'foundation'. And at this point people 
become worried: are we not close to the view that there is no 
difference between 'justified' and 'justified by our lights' (relativ- 
ism) or even 'justified by my lights' (a species of solipsism)? 


Values, facts and cognition 

The position of the solipsist is indeed the one we will land in 
if we try to stand outside the conceptual system to which the 
concept of rationality belongs and simultaneously pretend to 
offer a more 'rational' notion of rationality! (Many thinkers 
have fallen into Nietzsche's error of telling us they had a 'better' 
morality than the entire tradition; in each case they only pro- 
duced a monstrosity, for all they could do was arbitrarily wrench 
certain values out of their context while ignoring others.) We 
can only hope to produce a more rational conception of ratio- 
nality or a better conception of morality if we operate from 
within our tradition (with its echoes of the Greek agora, of New- 
ton, and so on, in the case of rationality, and with its echoes of 
scripture, of the philosophers, of the democratic revolutions, and 
so on, in the case of morality); but this is not at all to say that all 
is entirely reasonable and well with the conceptions we now 
have. We are not trapped in individual solipsistic hells, but 
invited to engage in a truly human dialogue; one which com- 
bines collectivity with individual responsibility. 

Does this dialogue have an ideal terminus? Is there a true con- 
ception of rationality, a true morality, even if all we ever have 
are our conceptions of these? Here philosophers divide, like 
everyone else. Richard Rorty, in his Presidential Address 5 to the 
American Philosophical Association, opted strongly for the view 
that there is only the dialogue; no ideal end can be posited or 
should be needed. But how does the assertion that 'there is only 
the dialogue' differ from the self-refuting relativism we discussed 
in Chapter 5? The very fact that we speak of our different con- 
ceptions as different conceptions of rationality posits a Grenz- 
begriff a limit-concept of die ideal truth. 

5 'Pragmatism, Relativism and Irrationalism', Proceedings and Addresses 
of the American Philosophical Association, August 1980. See also 
Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Princeton University Press, 


Here is the Theorem referred to in Chapter 2. 

Theorem Let L be a language with predicates F U F 2 , . . . JF fc 
(not necessarily monadic). Let / be an interpretation, in the sense 
of an assignment of an intension to every predicate of L. Then if 
J is non-trivial in the sense that at least one predicate has an 
extension which is neither empty nor universal in at least one 
possible world, there exists a second interpretation / which dis- 
agrees with I, but which makes the same sentences true in every 
possible world as I does. 

Proof Let W ly W 2 , . . . , be all the possible worlds, in some 
well-ordering, and let U t be the set of possible individuals which 
exist in the world W f . Let Ry be the set which is the extension of 
the predicate F t in the possible world Wj according to I (if Fy is 
non-monadic, then R y will be a set of w r tuples, where n { is the 
number of argument places of Ft). The structure (V^u (* = 1>2, 
. . . jk)) is the 'intended model' of L in the world W, relative to 
J (i.e. Uj is the universe of discourse of L in the world Wj, and 
(for i = 1,2, . . . ,&) Ru is the extension of the predicate F { in W jt 

If at least one predicate, say, F u , has an extension R uS which is 
neither empty nor all of U j9 select a permutation P 5 of Uj such 
that Pj(R uj )?Ruj. Otherwise, let Pj be the identity. Since P } is 
a permutation, the structure (Uj;Pj(Ru) (' = 1,2, . . . ,fc)> is iso- 
morphic to (Ui;Rij (i = 1,2, . . . ,&)> and so is a model for the 
same sentences of L (i.e. for the sentences of L which are true 
under/ in W s ). 

Let/ be the interpretation of L which assigns to the predicate 
F { (* = 1,2, . . . ,&) the following intension: the function fi{W) 



whose value at any possible world W s is P/R^). In other words, 
the extension of F t in each W s under the interpretation / is 
defined to be Pj(R u ). Since (UtfARis) (i = 1A ...,*)> is a 
model for the same set of sentences as (UyyRa (i = 1,2, . . . , k)) 
(by the isomorphism), the same sentences are true in each possi- 
ble world under/ as under /, and/ differs from J in every world 
in which at least one predicate has a non-trivial extension, q.e.d. 

Comment: If, in a given world W jy there are two disjoint sets 
which are extensions of predicates of L in W 5 under / - say, the 
set of cats and the set of dogs - then, if there are more dogs than 
cats (respectively, at least as many cats as dogs) we can take any 
set of dogs the same size as the set of cats (respectively, any set 
of cats the same size as the set of dogs) and choose a P 5 which 
maps the selected set of dogs onto the set of cats (respectively, 
the selected set of cats onto the set of dogs) and vice versa; this 
will ensure that under/ the extension of the first predicate - the 
one whose extension under I is the set of cats - is a set of dogs 
under / in Wj, or the extension of the second predicate -the 
one whose extension under J is the set of dogs - is a set of cats 
under / in Wj. 

Second Comment: If there are objects - say, 'sensations' - 
which one wishes not to be permuted, because one regards pred- 
icates of those objects as 'absolute* in some sense, one simply 
stipulates that the permutations Pj are to be the identity on those 
objects. This will have the effect of making the restriction of any 
predicate of L to those privileged objects the same under J and 
under / in each world. 

Third Comment: Since sentences receive logically equivalent 
truth conditions under J and under/, it follows that on the stan- 
dard 'possible worlds semantics', counterfactual conditionals are 
also preserved. 


Althusser, L., 158-60 
anthropology {relativism in), 161-2 
Apel, K. O., 175, 178 
a priori (and identity theory), 82-4 
Aristotle, 57-8, 135, 148, 177 

Bacon, Francis, 96 

Baker, J., 105 

bats (sensations of), 92-3 

Bayes* theorem, 190-4 

Bayesian school, 189-95 

Bentham, 151-2, 168-73, 214, see 

Benthamite psychology, 168-73 
Berkeley, 58-60, 64, 180 
Block, N., 78, 92 
Boyd, R., 166 
Boyle, 195-6 

brains in a vat, 1-21, 130-5 
Burks, A., 192 

Carnap, R., 26, 88, 106, 112, 125, 

136, 163, 181-4, 189 
causal chain of the appropriate type 

(theory of reference), 14, 70, 51-4, 

causal realism, 60 
Cavell, S., 110 
Chomskian linguistics, 126 
Churchill, 1, 4, 13 
Comte, 176, 184 
concepts, 18-21 

consciousness, 85-102; see mind-body 

correlation (mind-body), 80-1; see 

mind— body problem 
correspondence, 38-41; theory of 

truth, 51, 56-69, 72-4 

Darwin, 109, 198 
Davidson, D., 116, 124 
Da Vinci, Leonardo, 76 
De Finetti, B., 190 
Dennett, D., 28, 89, 91 
Descartes, 57, 75-7 
Dewey, J., 162, 167-8 
Diderot, 78 

Divine Right of Kings, 156-7 
Dummett, M., 56-7 

Eccles, J., 91 

Einstein, 124 

empiricism, 64-71, 124, 180-8 

emotive force of ethical utterances, 

ethics, 'inverted pyramid* picture, 
141-2; and projection, 141-7; and 
metaphysical realism, 143-7; and 
authoritarianism, 147-9; relativities 
in, 148; non-cognitivism, 149 

Eudaemonia, 134, 148 

evolution, 38-41, 198; Wittgenstein's 
attitude towards, 109 

Existentialist-Positivist model, 154 



extension, 18, 25-9; received view of 
how fixed, 32ff; and non-standard 
interpretations, 29-35, 217-18; see 

externalist view, 49ff 

fact-value dichotomy, 127-49, 
201-16; not to be drawn on basis of 
vocabulary, 138-9; and subjectivism 
about goodness, 141-7 

falsifiability, 194-8 

Feyerabend, P., ix, 113-19, 126 

Field, H., 45-6 

Foot, P., 209 

Foucault, M., ix, 121, 126, 155-62 

Frege, G., 27, 124-5 

Freud, 157 

functionalism, 78-82; see mind— body 

Garfinkel, A., 119-20 

Glymour, C., 90 

Goodman, N., 68-9, 74, 79, 98, 123, 

125, 146, 193-4 
Grice, P., 105 
Griffin, D., 92 

Harre, R., 109 
Hegel, xi, 158 
history, x, 155-8 
Hume, 107, 124, 180 
Husserl, E., 28 
hydra-headed robot, 96-7 

identity theory, 77-9; functionalism, 
78-82; and synthetic identity of 
properties, 84-5; and split brains, 
85-92; and a priori, 82-4; and con- 
sciousness, 85-102 

incommensurability, 113-19 

index (in semantics), 26 

inductive logic, 125-6, 189-94 

'instrumentalism', 178-80 

intension, 25-9; and meaning, 27; 
and Sinn, 27; and non-standard in- 
terpretations, 29-35, 217-18 

intentionality, 2, 17ff 

intentions, 41-3 

interactionism, 76-7 

internalist view, 49ff; and Kant, 60ff 

internal realism, see internalist view 

interpretation, 29-35, 217-18 

intrinsic properties, 36-8 

Kant, x, 31, 56, 57, 60-4, 74, 83, 116, 

121, 128 
Keynes, J. M., 191,205 
Kohler, W., 152 
Kolers, P., 68 
Kripke, S., 46-7, 207-8 
Kuhn, T., ix, 38, 113-19, 126, 150 

Leibniz, 75 
Lenin, 124 
Lewis, C. S., 147 
Locke, 47, 57, 61, 180 
logical positivism, see Carnap, Steven- 
son, empiricism 

Mach, 124 

Mackie, J., 206-11 

majoritarianism, 177-8 

Malament, D., 90 

Marx, 157 

Marxism (of Althusser), 158-60 

meaning, 29; see extension, index, in- 
tension, interpretation, intentions, 
intentionality, notional world, 
reference, truth, two-components 

'The Meaning of "Meaning" ', 22-5 
(summary of the theory) 

mentalism, 79 

metaphysically necessary truths, 46-7, 

metaphysically unexplainable facts (on 
physicalist theory of reference), 46-8 

metaphysical realism, 134, 143-7; see 
correspondence theory of truth, ex- 
ternalist view, internalist view, 
non-realist semantics, reference 

method fetishism, 188-200, 203 

Mill, John Stuart, 180, 189 

mind-body problem, 75-102; and 
parallelism, 76-7; and interac- 
tionism, 76-7; and identity theory, 
77-9; and mentalism, 79; role of 
physics in, 75-6; functionalism, 
78-82; correlation, 80-1; and 
synthetic identity of properties, 
84-5; and split brains, 85-92; and 
consciousness, 85-102; and subjec- 
tive color, 79-81, 86-94; and 
realism about qualia, 85, 88-9, 
94-6, 99-102; and a priori, 82-4 

Monod, J., 109 



Montague, R., 26 
Moore, G. E., 205-11 
Moses, 158 
Murdoch, I., 139, 154, 167 

Nagel, T., 92 
naturalistic fallacy, 205-11 
natural kind terms, 22-5, 46 
Neurath, O., 106 

Newman, John (Cardinal), 136, 163 
Newton, 58, 73, 75, 76, 200, 216 
Nietzsche, 157, 216 
non-realist semantics, 56; see inter- 
nalist view 
Nozick, R., 36, 122, 164-6 

Ockham's razor, 133 
ontological queerness, 206-11 
organic unity, 152 

parallelism (mind-body), 76-7 
Peirce, C. S., 30, 74, 198 
phantasm, 57 

phenomenalism, 180-5, 187 
philosophical discussion (compared 

with political), 164-6 
Plato, 75, 120-1, 124, 155 
Platonism, 69 

Popper, K., 166, 181-4, 195-9 
primary qualities, 57-61 
Private Language Argument, 64-72; 

further interpreted, 121-4 
projection, 141-7 
properties (synthetic identity of), 84-5, 

Putnam, R. A., 208-10 

qualia, 75-102; subjective color, 
79-81, 86-94; realism about, 85, 
88-9, 94-6, 99-102 

Quine, W., 30, 33, 35, 44-5, 82-3, 
113, 116, 124 

rational acceptability, 103-26; logical 
positivist conception of, 105-13; 
'anarchist* conception (Feyerabend), 
113-19; and relativism, 119-24; and 
inductive logic, 125; and scientism, 
126; and science, 134; and empiri- 
cal world, 134; and optimal 
speculative intelligence, 134; and 
'real world', 135; role of adequacy 

and perspicuousness, 137; and 
perception, 137-8; and interper- 
sonal situations, 138-9; and value 
terms, 138-41; see rationality 
rationality, 103-5, 163-4, 174-200; 
and reasonableness, 107; criterial 
conceptions of, 105-13; and 
philosophy, 113; ordinary language 
philosophers* view of, 110; scien- 
tism and, 124-6; modern instru- 
mental notion, 168-9; of pig-men, 
171-2; modern versus ancient views, 
173; and technological success, 
175-6; and 'instrumentalism', 
178-80; and empiricism, 180-8; and 
tradition, 203; and majority agree- 
ment, 177-8; and method fetishism, 
188-200, 203; and inductive logic, 
189-94; and falsifiability, 194-8; 
and theory of the good, 215-16; and 
solipsism, 215-16; as Grenzbegriff 
(limit conception), 216; see rational 
rational Nazi, 168-71, 211-14 
realism, see correspondence theory of 
truth, externalist view, internalist 
view, Dummett, reference, qualia, 
metaphysical realism, causal 
realism, causal chain of the appro- 
priate type 
reason, see rational acceptability, ra- 
reductionism, 56-7 

reference, magical theories of, 3-5, 16, 
51; and use, 8-12, 17ff; Turing Test 
for reference, 9; causal theories of, 
14, 45-8, 51ff; not in the head, 
22-5; operational and theoretical 
constraints on, 29-32; of natural 
kind terms, 22-5; and Self- 
Identifying Objects, 51, 53-4; inter- 
nalist view of, 52; causal chain of 
the appropriate type and, 14, 51-4, 
65-6, 70; similitude, 70-1, 56ff; ex- 
ternalist view of, 49ff ; see extension, 
relativism, 54, 119-24, 151-62; in 
anthropology, 161-62; false rel- 
ativism, 166; objective relativism, 
167-8; B. A. O. Williams' discus- 
sion of, 168-73 
relativity of perception, 59-60 
relevance, 201-3 



robots (whether they could have sen- 
sations), 96-7 

rocks (whether they could have sensa- 
tions), 94-6 

Rorty, R., 216 

Russell, B., 99, 205, 206 

Savage, L. J., 190 

scepticism, 162-3 

science, 128-37, 174-200; Boyle's 
contribution to methodology of, 
195-6; and value judgments, 198- 
200; see rationality, 
majoritarianism, method fetishism, 
inductive logic, falsifiability 

secondary qualities, 57-61; 'all prop- 
erties are secondary', 61-4 

Self- Identifying Objects, 51, 53-4 

sensations, 54; empiricist attitude to- 
wards, 64-72; possibility of always 
being wrong about, 70-2 

Sextus Empiricus, 147 

similarity, *of the same kind as', 53; 
similitude theory of reference, 56ff; 
and Kant, 60ff 

iimilitude (not the mechanism of 
reference to sensations), 70-1 

Skolem-Lowenheim theorem, 7, 67 

Smart, J. J. C, 78, 115 

Spinoza, 75, 78 

split brains, 85-92 

Stevenson, C, 206 

subjectivism (about goodness), 141-7, 
149; see relativism 

substantial forms, 57 

super-Benthamites, 139-41 

synthetic identity of properties, 84-5, 

Tarski, A., 128-9 

taste, 152-5 

tradition, 203 

truth, 49-50, 55-6; idealization theory 
of, 56; correspondence theory of, 
51,56-69,72-4, 130; Tarski's 
theory, 128-30; equivalence princi- 
ple (Tarski's Convention T), 128-9; 
see reference, externalist view, in- 
ternalist view 

Turing, A., test for consciousness (Im- 
itation Game), 8-12; Test for Refer- 
ence, 9 

Twin Earth, 18-19, 22-5 

two-components theory of meaning, 

utilitarianism, 151; super- 
Benthamites, 139-41; 'Benthamite 
psychology', 168-73; see Bentham 

values, in science, 132-5; truth (purely 
formal value), 129, coherence, 
132-3, comprehensiveness, 133, 
functional simplicity, 133, instru- 
mental efficacy, 134-5, and total 
human flourishing (Eudaemonia), 
134; ethical, 139-47; relativities in, 
148; ethical values and 
Eudaemonia, 148 

Weber, M., 174-9 
Wiggins, D., 51, 147-9 
Williams, B. A. O., 169-73, 203 
Wittgenstein, L., 3, 7, 20-1, 62, 66-71, 
74,107-9,113,121-4, 128 

Zemach, E., 51